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The Last of a Cooperative Era Takes Flight in Recent Space Launch

Antares Booster is a Silent Swan Song of East-West Cooperation

Space nerds watching NG-19 the last of the East-West rockets take off this week when an Antares booster lifted the Cygnus space capsule on its way to the ISS.

A pair of Russian RD-181 engines powered the large rocket, the last time the country would be offering its wares for a cooperative spacefaring venture for the foreseeable future. The Antares rocket was a hodgepodge of different components, sporting Russian engines, Ukrainian structure, and an American first stage and payload. In years past, such partnerships were a way to pay into the pot of spacefaring goodwill, a service to the higher goals of human exploration and international brotherhood. Such ideals have faded quickly in the face of rising costs, declining government funding, and a rising market for commercial space services.

For now, with Ukraine understandably out of the space structures business for the time being, and a dwindling supply of Russian rocket engines at home, the Antares design will begin a metamorphosis into a fully American product. Future Atlas V launches will continue to use up the remaining Russian launch hardware already imported, but US manufacturers like SpaceX and Firefly will have to step up and begin addressing the shortfall of international cooperation.

Firefly Aerospace will provide a first-stage upgrade for the Antares along with a new medium launch vehicle in the coming years. The initial spec planned to create an Antares 330 using 7 of the firm's Miranda engines, as well as their composites tech for structures and tanks.




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