(Dulles, VA 14 September 2009) – Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) today announced that the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) recently ordered the first Minotaur V launch vehicle under the company’s Orbital/Suborbital Program-2 (OSP-2) contract. The Minotaur V rocket will propel NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) probe on a trajectory to enable it to orbit the Moon. The Air Force’s Space Development and Test Wing (SDTW), located at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, administers the OSP-2 contract. The program office is responsible for all Minotaur vehicles for the Launch Test Squadron (LTS) of SDTW.
The company’s new order brings the total number of Minotaur launch vehicles procured by the U.S. Air Force, including space launch and target vehicles, to 28 since the inception of the program in 1997. It also represents the first order of a Minotaur V rocket designed to launch U.S. government satellites into higher-energy orbits for missions related to space exploration and other activities beyond low-Earth orbit.
“We are pleased to support NASA and the Air Force for this exciting mission to Earth’s Moon,” said Mr. Lou Amorosi, Orbital Vice President and Program Director of the Minotaur product line. “The Minotaur V launch vehicle was designed exactly with missions such as LADEE in mind, using both government-supplied and commercial rocket motors to provide highly reliable and affordable launches for high-energy and escape-trajectory missions.”
LADEE is a NASA probe that will orbit the Moon to characterize the atmosphere and lunar dust environment and determine the global density, composition, and time variability of the lunar atmosphere before it is perturbed by further human activity. The mission is currently scheduled for launch in May 2012 from Wallops Island, Virginia.
Minotaur V is a five-stage space launch vehicle capable of launching satellites weighing up to 650 Kg (1,425 lbs.) to geosynchronous transfer orbit or over 400 Kg (900 lbs.) to trans-lunar and other Earth-escape trajectories. The rocket’s first three stages consist of retired Peacekeeper rocket motors while its fourth and fifth stage motors are commercial Star 48 and Star 37 motors, respectively.
Orbital has launched a total of 16 Minotaur vehicles with a perfect mission success record, beginning with the inaugural mission in January 2000. Eight of the missions have been carried out by the Minotaur I space launch vehicle (SLV) configuration and eight by the Minotaur II suborbital target launch vehicle (TLV). Currently, there are 11 additional Minotaur missions on Orbital’s upcoming launch manifest, including the inaugural launch of the Minotaur IV rocket, scheduled to boost the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite into orbit for the U.S. Air Force later in 2009.
About the 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 Operationally Responsive Space (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.
In addition to Minotaur V, 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 has conducted a total of eight successful launches to date.
- 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 has performed eight successful launches to date.
- 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 preparations to launch the SBSS satellite for the U.S. Air Force 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.