A privately owned rocket that is part of efforts to grow the commercial space industry will launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Wednesday evening, and it will be visible from Maryland.
Orbital Sciences Corp., a Dulles, Va.-based space transportation company, is launching an Antares rocket from Wallops as the first in a series of tests, called mission A-ONE. The company plans to launch an Antares rocket in the middle of this year carrying a spacecraft that will go on to dock with the International Space Station, under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation System program.
The two missions "represent the culmination of Orbital's largest product development in the 30-year history of the company," according to Orbital Sciences' website.
The commercial orbital transportation program aims to achieve "safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station and low-Earth orbit," according to NASA.
For the test mission, the rocket will carry a payload designed to stand in for a Cygnus spacecraft, to show the company can successfully put the spacecraft into orbit. Assuming all of the tests are cleared, Orbital is slated to eventually deliver up to 20,000 kilograms of supplies to the space station.
The first test launch is slated for 5 p.m. Wednesday. The rocket is scheduled to burn for about 4 minutes in its first stage before the payload is separated. After separation, a second-stage burn will propel the payload for another two minutes, until it is at an altitude of 256 kilometers.
The launch will be toward the southeast from Wallops, making Bermuda an idea spot to watch it pass over. From the Eastern Shore, the launch should come into view between one and two minutes after the launch and could rise as high as 25 degrees above the horizon. From Central Maryland, it will be harder to see but still visible low in the sky, about 10 degrees above the horizon, two to three minutes after the launch.