In a historic first, after waiting out inclement weather, Orbital ATK successfully lit up the night sky and launched a Minotaur IV solid-fuel rocket from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 46 last night and delivered the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5) spacecraft to low Earth orbit.
ORS-5 marks the first Minotaur IV launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the first time launching from SLC-46 since 1999, and demonstrates the Range’s ability to support every vertical launch system in the U.S. inventory.
The rocket’s first stage ignited at 2:04 a.m. (EDT). Approximately 28 minutes later, the Minotaur IV deployed the ORS-5 satellite into its targeted low inclination orbit 372 miles (599 kilometers) above the earth. From this orbit, ORS-5 will deliver timely, reliable and accurate space situational awareness information to the United States Strategic Command through the Joint Space Operations Center.
The spacecraft separated from the upper stage approximately 28 minutes after launch. Engineers and operators will now begin complete checkout and tests in preparation for operational use.
“This was our first Minotaur launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, demonstrating the rocket’s capability to launch from all four major U.S. spaceports,” said Rich Straka, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Launch Vehicles Division. “With a perfect track record of 26 successful launches, the Minotaur family has proven to be a valuable and reliable asset for the Department of Defense.”
The Minotaur IV includes three solid rocket motors from decommissioned ballistic missiles. The Minotaur family of launch vehicles is 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 flight-proven hardware. Minotaur rockets have now launched from ranges in California, Virginia, Alaska and Florida. The vehicles are procured under the OSP-3 contract administered by Kirtland Air Force Base.
The ORS-5 program is designed to deliver timely, reliable and accurate space situational awareness information to the United States Strategic Command through the Joint Space Operations Center. The system enhances space tracking capability, supports the nation’s space programs, and bolsters safety of satellites in geosynchronous orbits.
At $87.5 million, the ORS-5 satellite will operate from a low inclination orbit 372 miles above the earth to aid the U.S. military’s tracking of other satellites and space debris in geosynchronous orbit, 22,236 miles above the equator, commonly used by defense-related communications satellites, television broadcasting stations, and international space platforms. ORS-5 will deliver space situational awareness capabilities at a significantly reduced cost compared to larger, more complex satellites, and serves as a gap filler mission for the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) Block 10 mission, originally launched in 2010. A successor SBSS mission is not expected to launch before 2021.
Additionally, three CubeSats — two from Los Alamos National Laboratory, and one from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, were aboard the Minotaur IV launch vehicle via a rideshare agreement, resulting in a lower price to the government for the launch.
The ORS-5 launch was the sixth Minotaur IV flight. The Minotaur IV is capable of launching payloads up to 4,000 lbs. (or 1,800 kg.) to low-Earth orbit. This mission’s Minotaur IV configuration included three decommissioned Peacekeeper stages, an Orion 38 solid-fuel upper stage and an additional Orion 38 insertion stage for the payload. The Minotaur rockets are manufactured at Orbital ATK’s facilities in Chandler, Arizona; Vandenberg, California; and Clearfield and Magna, Utah.
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“The ORS-5 Minotaur IV launch was the true epitome of partnership,” Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander said. “A collaborative effort between multiple mission partners, each group came together flawlessly to revolutionize how we work together on the Eastern Range. Teamwork is pivotal to making us the ‘World’s Premier Gateway to Space’ and I couldn’t be prouder to lead a Wing that not only has launched over a quarter of the world’s launches this year, but also three successful, launches from three different providers, in less than two weeks.”
“Orbital ATK has launched nearly 100 space launch and strategic rockets for the U.S. Air Force,” said Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group. “We’re proud to be a partner they can count on.”
The ORS-5 team is led by the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Operationally Responsive Space Office, located at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts, is the ORS-5 prime contractor. The 50th Space Wing at Schriever AFB, Colorado Springs, Colorado, operates the ORS-5 system.
The launch was led by SMC’s Launch Enterprise Directorate on the first Orbital ATK Minotaur IV launch from Cape Canaveral. SMC’s Advanced Systems and Development Directorate integrated the ground system into its Multi-Mission Space Operations Center (MMSOC) version 2.1. ORS-5 is the first system on the updated ground system, which serves as the foundation for Enterprise Ground Services. Air Force Space Command’s 50th Space Wing/1st Space Operations Squadron, will operate the ORS-5 system.
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