Orbital ATK [OA] successfully launched its sixth Minotaur IV space launch vehicle on Aug. 26, sending an Air Force satellite, the Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5), into low-Earth orbit.

The Minotaur IV rocket took off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 46 at 2:04 a.m., then deployed the ORS-5 satellite 28 minutes later. This latest mission was Orbital’s 26th successful launch for its Minotaur line of rockets.

Orbital's Minotaur IV launches from Cape Canaveral on Aug. 26 carrying the ORS-5 satellite. Photo: Orbital ATK.
Orbital’s Minotaur IV launches from Cape Canaveral on Aug. 26 carrying the ORS-5 satellite. Photo: Orbital ATK.

“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,” Vice President and General Manager of Orbital’s Launch Vehicles Division Rich Straka said in a statement. “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 ORS-5 satellite, also known as the SensorSat, launched by Orbital’s rocket will deliver space situational awareness data from low-Earth orbit to U.S. Strategic Command via the Joint Space Operations Center.

The satellite is expected to be in use for three years as part of an $87.5 million Air Force mission, with $49 million for satellite, $27.2 million for the launch and $11.3 million for the ground system (Defense Daily, August 18).

Saturday’s launch comes as debate is increasing over the possible use of surplus Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) motors for commercial space launches. Currently, such ICBM motors like the ones used by the Orbital’s Minotaur rockets for the purposes of NASA or DoD launches but commercial use is currently barred (Defense Daily, August 16).  

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from Aug. 16 highlights how the Air Force’s stockpile of 720 surplus ICBM motors could be utilized to boost the global competitiveness of U.S. launch services.

Orbital’s Minotaur IV incorporates three motors from the Air Force’s decommissioned Peacekeeper ICBM.

The Minotaur IV rocket, which is capable of launch payloads of up to 4,000 lbs., is manufactured at Orbital’s facilities in Chandler, Ariz., Vandenberg, Calif., and Clearfield and Magna, Utah.

The Air Force is aiming to launch the ORS-6, a weather demonstration satellite, in February 2018 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.