Orbital Awarded New Minotaur IV Mission By U.S. Air Force
Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE:ORB) today announced that the U.S. Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center (SMC) recently placed an order for a new Minotaur IV launch vehicle under the company’s Orbital/Suborbital Program-2 (OSP-2) contract. The order consists of one Minotaur IV launch vehicle that will be used to launch a military technology demonstration payload in 2010. The new order brings the total number of Minotaur launch vehicles procured by the U.S. Air Force, including space launch and target vehicles, to 25 since the inception of the program in 1997. It also represents the eighth Minotaur IV under contract for launches beginning in 2009. The Air Force’s Space Development and Test Wing (SDTW), located at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, administers the OSP-2 contract. The program office responsible for all Minotaur vehicles is the Launch Test Squadron (LTS) of the SDTW.
Orbital has launched a total of 14 Minotaur vehicles with a perfect mission success record, beginning with the inaugural mission in January 2000. Seven of the missions have been carried out by the Minotaur I space launch vehicle (SLV) configuration and seven by the Minotaur II suborbital target launch vehicle (TLV). Currently, there are 11 Minotaur missions on Orbital’s upcoming launch manifest. These include a Minotaur II TLV vehicle to be launched later this month, a Minotaur I SLV scheduled for a late 2008 flight carrying the U.S. Air Force’s TacSat-3 spacecraft, and the first of eight Minotaur IV rockets, which is scheduled for its inaugural flight in early 2009.
Orbital’s Minotaur vehicles have a history of being used to support technology demonstrations, both for space launch and suborbital missions. The initial Minotaur I SLV mission in 2000 launched a total of 11 spacecraft, including six picosatellites, which are the smallest operational spacecraft ever placed in orbit. This mission was also the first of several Minotaur missions to demonstrate an Orbital-developed GPS Position Beacon that provides autonomous metric tracking, reducing the need for ground-based radars to support launches. In addition, a low-cost TDRSS transmitter flew aboard the Minotaur I COSMIC mission in April 2006, successfully demonstrating over-the-horizon transmission of telemetry data at a greatly reduced cost compared to previous systems. More recently, the launch of TacSat-2 on a Minotaur I in December 2006 was a ground-breaking demonstration of Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) launch capabilities, being carried out less than seven months after initiation of the order. It also demonstrated the feasibility of being able to integrate and launch a spacecraft in less than a week. Finally, in August 2007, the launch of a suborbital Minotaur II TLV performed a high accuracy, precisely timed launch that involved a close flyby of an orbiting spacecraft to allow the satellite’s onboard sensors to observe the thrusting launch vehicle at very close range.
About Orbital’s Minotaur Product Line
The Minotaur launch vehicle product line consists of the only proven launch vehicles currently capable of supporting the U.S. Department of Defense’s evolving ORS space launch requirements, as well as long-range target delivery for missile defense and technology demonstration missions. They are specifically designed to be capable of launching from all major U.S. spaceports, including government and commercial launch sites in Alaska, California, Florida and Virginia. In addition, the minimal amount of specialized ground infrastructure that is required to support Minotaur launches enable them to be employed at other U.S. launch sites. Orbital’s use of standardized avionics and subsystems, mature processes and experienced personnel make Minotaur rockets both reliable and cost-effective for U.S. government customers.
Orbital’s Minotaur product line currently consists of the following configurations:
– Minotaur I – The initial member of the Minotaur family, the Minotaur I is a four-stage space launch configuration that can place up to 1,300 lbs. into low-Earth orbit. It was originally launched in January 2000 and carries a perfect seven-for-seven mission success record. The next planned Minotaur I mission is the launch of the TacSat-3 spacecraft currently scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2008.
– Minotaur II – A three-stage suborbital rocket, the Minotaur II is used as a target vehicle for testing U.S. missile defense systems and related missions. This configuration also carries a perfect seven-for-seven mission success record.
– Minotaur III – A three-stage suborbital rocket, Minotaur III can deliver suborbital technology demonstration payloads of up to 6,500 lbs. or serve as a target vehicle for testing U.S. missile defense systems and similar missions.
– Minotaur IV – A heavier-lift four-stage space launch vehicle using retired Peacekeeper rocket motors, the Minotaur IV is capable of launching satellites weighing up to 3,800 lbs. into low-Earth orbit. The first Minotaur IV mission is currently in final production to launch a satellite for the U.S. Air Force in early 2009. A configuration with increased performance, Minotaur IV+, is also under contract for an initial launch in late 2009.
Orbital develops and manufactures small- and medium-class rockets and space systems for commercial, military and civil government customers. The company’s primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including low-Earth orbit, geosynchronous-Earth orbit and planetary spacecraft for communications, remote sensing, scientific and defense missions; human-rated space systems for Earth-orbit, lunar and other missions; ground- and air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into orbit; and missile defense systems that are used as interceptor and target vehicles. Orbital also provides satellite subsystems and space-related technical services to government agencies and laboratories.
Note to Editor: A high-resolution image of the Minotaur IV pathfinder vehicle is available on Orbital’s web site at: http://www.orbital.com/images/high/Minotaur-IV_Launchpad.jpg