Using industrial cranes at a no-frills launch pad on the eastern tip of Cape Canaveral, a team of Orbital ATK and U.S. Air Force technicians have fully stacked a modified Cold War-era missile set for launch next week with a $49 million satellite built to track other objects in orbit.
The Minotaur 4 rocket, made up of five solid-fueled stages, is scheduled to fire into space from pad 46 at Cape Canaveral next Friday night, Aug. 25, at 11:15 p.m. EDT (0315 GMT on Aug. 26).
The mission has a four-hour window to lift off, or else wait until another day.
The spacecraft closed up inside the Minotaur 4’s nose cone is named SensorSat. Developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, the Air Force-funded mission will spend three years scanning orbital traffic lanes, detecting and tracking satellites and space debris in a belt nearly 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) over the equator.
Objects at that altitude remain over fixed geographic positions on Earth, making geostationary orbit an ideal location for military and commercial communications satellites, weather observatories, and intelligence-gathering spy craft.
SensorSat is managed by the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space division, an office established in 2007 to investigate lower-cost satellites and launchers. The Air Force calls the mission ORS-5, the latest in a line of projects aimed at testing out new satellite and launch innovations.
“The delivery and upcoming launch of ORS-5 marks a significant milestone in fulfilling our commitment to the space situational awareness mission and U.S. Strategic Command,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force program executive officer for space. “It’s an important asset for the warfighter and will be employed for at least three years.”
Next week’s nighttime blastoff will mark the first Minotaur launch from Cape Canaveral. Five Minotaur 4 rockets have launched on suborbital and orbital missions since 2010 from sites in California and Alaska.
The three main rocket motors that will power the Minotaur 4 into space came from stockpiles left over from the Air Force’s retired nuclear-tipped Peacekeeper missiles. The rocket motors were filled with pre-packed solid fuel in the 1980s, then placed on alert in missile silos until the military decommissioned the Peacekeeper.
Two commercially-produced Orion 38 rocket motors built by Orbital ATK, the company charged with operating the Minotaur, will do the extra lifting to place SensorSat into orbit.
The Minotaur 4 usually flies with a single Orion 38 motor as a fourth stage, but SensorSat’s unusual orbit requires another boost.
The fifth stage motor will give the relatively small 249-pound (113-kilogram) SensorSat satellite a kick into an equator-hugging orbit at an altitude of approximately 372 miles (600 kilometers) at zero degrees inclination.
The Air Force paid $27.2 million for the launch, opting for a commercial-like launch service to keep costs to a minimum. Orbital ATK considered basing the launch from a Minotaur pad at Wallops Island, Virginia, but the site is too far north to reach the equatorial orbit needed on the ORS-5 mission.
Another option Orbital ATK briefly considered was setting up a temporary Minotaur launch pad at the European-run spaceport in French Guiana, just north of the equator, but Cape Canaveral eventually became the best choice once engineers devised a way to add another rocket motor on top of the Minotaur 4.
Ground crews at pad 46 topped off the Minotaur rocket Tuesday with the addition of the SensorSat satellite and the Orion 38 fifth stage motor already closed up inside the launcher’s nose shroud.
The first four stages of the Minotaur 4 will fire in quick succession in the first 15 minutes of the flight to climb into a preliminary parking orbit between around 248 miles and 372 miles (400 to 600 kilometers) above Earth. That temporary orbit will have a tilt of approximately 24.5 degrees to the equator.
During the 10-minute coast until ignition of the fifth stage motor, the Minotaur will release two CubeSats for an undisclosed U.S. government agency, and a three-unit shoebox-sized CubeSat for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
Seattle-based Spaceflight made arrangements for the CubeSats launching on the Minotaur 4.
The Minotaur’s last firing will last a little over a minute.
“The way to think of that fifth stage is it’s an insertion stage,” said Phil Joyce, vice president of small launch programs at Orbital ATK. “We used the standard Minotaur 4 to put us in a parking orbit … And then that fifth stage Orion 38 is there to circularize and to do the plane change down to equatorial.”
With stacking of the Minotaur 4 now complete, attention turns to testing the rocket.
“Now we’re in the process of our post-stack verification tests,” said Terry Luchi, Orbital ATK’s Minotaur program manager. “This is where we’ll go through a series of avionics tests and verify that everything is still playing as expected.”
A full mission dress rehearsal with the pad team and launch controllers is scheduled for Monday. The rest of the week leading up to launch day will be spent installing ordnance and preparing to arm the vehicle.
Luchi said the Minotaur team had to work around a busy launch manifest at Cape Canaveral. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took off last Monday, Aug. 14, and a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 booster launched Friday.
“This is the first time that we’ll take Minotaur out of the Cape. We have some experience in the past on other vehicles, but bringing Minotaur to the Cape obviously presents some challenges,” Luchi said in an interview with Spaceflight Now.
Orbital ATK is preparing the Minotaur 4 for launch at pad 46, a rarely-used facility operated by Space Florida, the state government agency chartered to lure commercial aerospace business to the area. The last launch from pad 46 occurred in 1999.
The Minotaur launch team raised three inert Peacekeeper stages at pad 46 earlier this year in a pathfinder test to familiarize themselves with the ground facilities and verify their compatibility.
The Air Force-run Eastern Range is also getting acquainted with the Minotaur for the first time.
While there are no more Minotaur missions from Cape Canaveral on Orbital ATK’s manifest, Luchi said the experience gained on the ORS-5 campaign could set the stage for future Florida-based flights.
“I think we’re done with this one time (at Cape Canaveral), it’s going to be all that much easier in the future,” Luchi said.
Orbital ATK has one more Minotaur 1 launch in its backlog from Wallops Island, Virginia, in late 2018. That flight, using a smaller version of the Minotaur based on retired Minuteman missile stages, will loft a classified spacecraft for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Joyce said Orbital ATK anticipates future Minotaur launch contracts from the U.S. government for small-class satellites. Because they use government-furnished rocket motors, the Minotaur 1 and 4 families are restricted from competing for commercial launch awards, a U.S. government policy that has drawn the ire of Orbital ATK, which sees privately-owned satellites in the Minotaur’s lift envelope, including many U.S. payloads, going up on Indian, Russian and European launchers.
Proponents of the policy say that selling already-built missile motors into the commercial launch market would dampen innovation and keep new companies from introducing commercial rockets.
Several companies are working on commercial small satellite launch vehicles. Some have major strides, including a full-up test flight in the case of the U.S.-New Zealand company Rocket Lab, but none have successfully placed a payload into orbit.
1st ASTS provides critical support for Minotaur launch at Cape
File image of the Minotaur rocket at an earlier launch campaign at Wallops.
The 1st Air and Space Test Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base will be assisting with the first ever Minotaur IV launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The 1st ASTS team coordinated the transport for the first three stages of the engine to Cape Canaveral AFS where they will provide support through the day of launch.
The Minotaur IV is an expendable launch system derived from an old Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
"We have specialized equipment here, where we stack the Minotaur and make sure they are good to go," said Capt. Julian Martinez, 1st ASTS mission integrator.
"The upcoming launch at Canaveral is a Minotaur IV vehicle, which is an old peacekeeper system. There are five stages, and the DoD owns the first three. We are the only Air Force blue suit team that is able to maintain, ship and handle all of these rocket components. When we are out there we always get referred to as 'the Air Force guys', because we are the only uniformed personnel that have a direct impact on ground operations."
As the only unit in the Air Force that can stack and transport the Minotaur IV, the 1 ASTS utilizes experienced missile maintainers on a space assignment.
"As a unit we rely heavily on the missile maintainers that have prior experience in the missile fields," said Brian Tafoya, 1st ASTS flight chief.
"Even though we are now on the space launch side of the house, we are able to use the knowledge of the ICBM delivery systems to ensure we do our part in the launch process. It is a bit different than what we are used to. Instead of loading a missile into a silo we get to stack it on a launch pad. Our ICBM experience translates directly into the small space lift mission and is a pretty unique experience."
The primary responsibility of the 1st ASTS is to ensure the launch vehicle is processed and stacked for a successful mission.
"For this upcoming launch from the Cape, we shipped the first three stages out about a month before the projected launch date," said Martinez.
"After the boosters arrive in Florida, we coordinate with the 45th Space Wing to use their cranes to load the boosters onto Minotaur specific trucks called Type-II's, for convoy to the launch pad. After all three stages are stacked on the launch pad, we hand custody off to the launch service provider, Orbital ATK. Stage four and five are owned by Orbital ATK and include the payload, avionics, and instrumentation."
With a low launch tempo for the Minotaur family of vehicles, the 1st ASTS team is constantly training. This prevents future discrepancies and maintains currency.
"We don't launch a lot of these, so one of the ways we stay ready for a real operation is by practicing," said Martinez.
"We run through procedures and talk with quality assurance, keeping everything up to date. This mission will launch August 25th from Cape Canaveral AFS is a pretty monumental event for the whole squadron. The team will be traveling to watch the launch, and perform post-launch equipment recovery."
The team may be small, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in dedication and expertise.
"When we conduct an operation like this, from cradle to grave, it gives us a sense of pride," said Tafoya.
"We have maintained a mission ready posture and now have a chance to prove what we can do. It is always a challenge to stay consistent across a few year gap between missions, but we do, and when we have a Minotaur launch we are mission ready."
Dulles, Virginia 24 August 2017 – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced it is in final preparations to launch the company’s Minotaur IV rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Friday, August 25, at approximately 11:15 p.m. EDT. The Minotaur IV will carry the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5) spacecraft, which will monitor satellites and space debris to aid the U.S. military’s space situational awareness.
Building on the Minotaur family’s 100 percent success rate, this mission will mark the 26th flight for Orbital ATK’s Minotaur product line and the sixth flight of the Minotaur IV configuration. Minotaur vehicles are based on government-furnished Peacekeeper and Minuteman rocket motors that Orbital ATK has upgraded and integrated with modern avionics and other subsystems to produce an affordable launcher based on reliable, flight-proven hardware. The Minotaur IV is capable of launching payloads up to 4,000 lbs. (or 1,800 kg.) to low-Earth orbit. Minotaur rockets have previously launched from ranges in California, Virginia and Alaska. This will be the company’s first launch of a Minotaur rocket from Launch Complex-46, managed by Space Florida.
“Launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station expands the Minotaur launch vehicle’s capability to meet specific mission requirements for our customer,” said Rich Straka, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Launch Vehicles Division. “We are pleased to be able to provide continued launch support for the ORS office with our reliable Minotaur family of launch vehicles and look forward to a successful launch of the ORS-5 mission.”
The Minotaur product line is provided via the Orbital/Suborbital Program (OSP-3) contract and managed by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), Launch Enterprise, Experimental Launch and Test Division (LE/LEX), and Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) located at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
Live coverage of the Minotaur launch and details about the mission are available at www.orbitalatk.com.
Quelle: Orbital ATK
CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — A gap filling space surveillance satellite that will track orbiting threats for the U.S. Air Force is set for an thrilling nighttime blastoff Friday, Aug. 25 on the maiden mission of the Minotaur IV rocket from Cape Canaveral that’s powered by a retired Cold War-era ICBM missile – once armed with nuclear warheads.
The Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket carrying the ORS-5 tracking satellite for the USAF Operationally Responsive Space Office is targeting liftoff just before midnight Friday at 11:15 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-46 (SLC-46) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
“We are go for launch of Orbital ATK’s Minotaur IV rocket Friday night,” Orbital ATK confirmed.
The ORS-5 mission, which stands for Operationally Responsive Space-5, marks the first launch of a Minotaur IV rocket from Cape Canaveral and the first use of SLC-46 since 1999.
The Minotaur IV is a five stage rocket comprised of three stages of a decommissioned Cold War-era Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that has been modified to add two additional Orbital ATK Orion 38 solid rocket motors for the upper stages.
Being a night launch and the first of its kind will surely make for a spectacular sky show.
Plus if you want to see how the world could potentially end in nuclear catastrophy, come watch the near midnight launch of the Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket that’s a retired Peacekeeper ICBM once armed with nuclear warheads aimed at the Russians but now carrying the USAF ORS-5 surveillance satellite instead.
Its well worth your time if you can watch the Minotaur launch with your own eyeballs. It can be easily viewed from numerous local area beaches, parks, restaurants and more.
Furthermore, its been in a super busy time at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. Because, if all goes well Friday’s midnight launch will be the third in just 11 days – and the second in a week!
A ULA Atlas V launched the NASA TDRS-M science relay satellite last Friday, Aug 18. And a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched the Dragon CRS-12 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, Aug. 14.
You can watch the launch live via the Orbital ATK website here: www.orbitalatk.com
The live Orbital ATK broadcast will begin approximately 20 minutes before the launch window opens.
The webcast will be hosted by former CNN space reporter John Zarrella.
The launch window opens at 11:15 p.m. EDT August 25. It extends for four hours until 3:15 a.m. EDT August 26.
In the event of delay for any reason, the next launch opportunity is Saturday, Aug. 26. The launch window remains the same from 11:15 p.m. EDT August 26 to 3:15 a.m. EDT August 27.
The weather looks somewhat iffy at this time with only a 60% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. The primary concerns on Aug. 25 are for thick clouds and cumulus clouds.
The weather odds deteriorate to only 40% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Aug. 26. The primary concerns on Aug. 26 are for thick clouds, cumulus clouds and lightning.
ORS-5 is like a telescope wrapped in a satellite that will aim up to seek threats from LEO to GEO.
ORS-5, also known as SensorSat, is designed to scan for other satellites and debris to aid the U.S. military’s tracking of objects in geosynchronous orbit for a minimum of three years and possibly longer if its on boards sensor and satellite systems continue functioning in a useful and productive manner.
“The delivery and upcoming launch of ORS-5 marks a significant milestone in fulfilling our commitment to the space situational awareness mission and U.S. Strategic Command,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force program executive officer for Space. “It’s an important asset for the warfighter and will be employed for at least three years.”
The ORS-5 satellite has a payload mass of 140 kg. It will be launched into a low inclination equatorial orbit of 600 km x 600 km (373 mi x 373 mi) at zero degrees.
“This will be the largest low-Earth orbit inclination plane change in history – 28.5 degrees latitude to equatorial orbit,” says Orbital ATK.
“The Minotaur IV 4th stage will put ORS-5 into initial orbit & the payload insertion stage will make a hard left to get to equatorial orbit.”
The Cape Canaveral AFB launch site for this Minotaur IV was chosen, rather than NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia based on the final orbit required for ORS-5, Orbital ATK told Universe Today at a prelaunch media briefing.
The Minotaur IV is not powerful enough to deliver ORS-5 to the desired orbit from Wallops.
ORS-5 was designed and built by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory facility in Lexington, Massachusetts at a cost of $49 million.
In July 2015 the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office awarded Orbital ATK a $23.6 million contract to launch the ORS-5 SensorSat on the Minotaur IV launch vehicle.
ORS-5/SensorSat was processed for launch and encapsulation inside the 2.3 meter diameter payload fairing at Astrotech Space Operations processing facility in Titusville, Florida.
The Minotaur IV is quite similar to Orbital ATK’s Minotaur V launch vehicle which successfully propelled NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter to the Moon for NASA during a night launch from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in Sept. 2013.
The Minotaur V also utilizes the first three stages of the decommissioned Peacekeeper ICBM missile.
Overall the ORS-5 launch will be the 26th blastoff in Orbital ATK’s Minotaur family of launch vehicles which enjoy a 100% success rate to date.
The U.S. Air Force has a stockpile of about 180 surplus Peacekeeper motors, but not all are launch capable, the USAF told Universe Today at a prelaunch media briefing.
The USAF furnishes the Peacekeeper motors to Orbital ATK after first refurbishing the booster stages at Vandenberg AFB, Ca.
Orbital ATK then upgrades the stages by adding their own “flight-proven avionics, structures, software and other components that are common among Orbital ATK’s space launch vehicles” and integrating the firms Orion 38 solid rocket motors for the two upper stages.
“A combined government and contractor team of mission partners executed final ground activities including a Launch Base Compatibility Test to verify satellite integrity after shipment, an intersegment test to verify communication compatibility from the satellite to the on-orbit operations center and the final battery reconditioning for launch, prior to its integration with the Minotaur IV launch vehicle,” says the USAF.
Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite Minotaur IV ORS-5, TDRS-M, CRS-12, and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Learn more about the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, upcoming Minotaur IV ORS-5 military launch on Aug. 25, recent ULA Atlas TDRS-M NASA comsat on Aug. 18, 2017 , SpaceX Dragon CRS-12 resupply launch to ISS on Aug. 14, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:
Aug 25-26: “2017 Total Solar Eclipse, Minotaur IV ORS-5, TDRS-M NASA comsat, SpaceX CRS-12 resupply launches to the ISS, Intelsat35e, BulgariaSat 1 and NRO Spysat, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings