A last gasp in a long-standing link between Russia and Ukraine in the field of rocketry could come this week in an unlikely place—the rural wetlands of eastern Virginia—halfway around the world from the battlefields where the nations’ military forces are locked in a deadly conflict.
A commercial Antares rocket owned by the US aerospace and defense contractor Northrop Grumman is set for launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, as soon as Tuesday evening hauling an automated Cygnus supply ship into orbit on a mission to the International Space Station. When it takes off, the Antares rocket will be powered by two Russian-made engines affixed to the bottom of a first-stage booster built in Ukraine.
This is how Northrop Grumman has launched most of its 19 resupply missions to the space station since 2013, but this week’s mission will be the last Antares flight to use Russian and Ukrainian components. Northrop Grumman has partnered with Firefly Aerospace, which has already built and launched a small satellite launcher of its own, to develop a new US-built first stage to replace the Ukrainian booster. Firefly will supply seven of its own engines, called the Miranda, to propel each of the new-generation Antares rockets into space.