Antares rocket waits in the wings for its chance to fly to the space station

SpaceX made history Wednesday when its Dragon spacecraft berthed with the International Space Station in what NASA touts as a key milestone in commercial spaceflight.

But waiting in the wings at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore — literally sitting on its brand new $145 million launch pad — is the Antares rocket, slated to ship the Cygnus spacecraft into orbit as the second commercial vehicle to begin resupplying the station.

Before that happens, the Antares is being put through its paces: Weeks of testing its mechanical, electrical, propellant and gas management systems. Then fueling and de-fueling in a "wet" dress rehearsal. Following that, a hot-fire test scheduled for next month to launch the rocket and a simulated Cygnus craft laden with sensors to gather even more data.

"The next thing we do is, we launch. We fly," said Barron Beneski, spokesman at the Dulles-based Orbital Sciences Corporation, which designed and built the Antares and Cygnus.

That demonstration flight, which will include a trial docking with the space station, is expected in 2013.

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