Orbital ATK [OA] on Thursday successfully launched NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) satellites, according to a company statement.

Launch took place on Orbital ATK’s Pegasus air-launched rocket. For the first phase of the launch, CYGNSS and the Pegasus rocket were carried into the atmosphere beneath Orbital ATK’s Stargazer L-1011 carrier aircraft after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The CYGNSS satellites were released from the aircraft at approximately 39,000 feet before the Pegasus motors ignited, carrying CYGNSS to its intended 35 degree orbit. This will allow the constellation of eight satellites to survey the mid latitudes where most cyclones form.

Orbital ATK's Stargazer L-1011 aircraft lifts off Dec. 15 with NASA's CYGNSS satellite constellation. Photo: Orbital ATK.
Orbital ATK’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft lifts off Dec. 15 with NASA’s CYGNSS satellite constellation. Photo: Orbital ATK.

CYGNSS Principal Investigator Chris Ruf said Thursday in a statement that NASA successfully contacted each of the eight observatories on its first attempt. He said this bodes well for their health and status, which is the next thing NASA will be checking with the next contacts in the coming days.

This was the first time Pegasus was used since June 27, 2013, for NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission. Pegasus will also be used in summer 2017 for NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission.

Pegasus is a launch system for the deployment of small satellites into low earth orbit (LEO). It is the only NASA Launch Services Category 3 vehicle in the small-launch class. The mission was delayed from Monday when launch was aborted due to an issue with the launch vehicle release system on the Stargazer. A hydraulic system operates the mechanism that releases the Pegasus rocket from the carrier aircraft. NASA said the hydraulic system functioned properly during pre-flight checks of the airplane.

Orbital ATK in March 2014 was awarded a firm-fixed price launch-service task order contract worth roughly $55 million for CYGNSS.