Orbital Sciences Corporation [ORB] today announced that it successfully launched a Minotaur IV space launch vehicle in support of the Air Force’s Space Test Program-S26 (STP-S26) mission.

“The third successful Minotaur IV flight in 2010, and the second in less than two months, builds on our well-established record of mission success for the Minotaur rocket family,” Ron Grabe, Orbital’s executive vice president and general manager of its Launch Systems Group, said in a statement. “We are proud to have supported the U.S. Air Force with the next generation of the Minotaur launch vehicle family for the STP-S26 satellite program. With three successful launches in its first year of operations, the Minotaur IV is proving to be a valuable new capability for the Air Force to meet its space launch needs.”

In a launch that originated from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska on Friday, November 19, 2010 at 8:25 p.m. (EST), the rocket carried four microsatellites and two CubeSats into low-Earth orbit approximately 405 miles above the Earth.

The Minotaur IV was equipped with a hydrazine auxiliary propulsion system (HAPS) that acted as a fifth stage to reach a higher orbit, approximately 745 miles in altitude, demonstrating a new multi-orbit capability. The STP-S26 mission was the 19th overall mission for the Minotaur product line over the last 10 years, all of which have been successful.

The STP-S26 mission demonstrated a new capability for Minotaur IV, called the Multiple Payload Platform (MPP), which addresses the needs of small satellite customers. Several key facts about this new capability are as follows:

  • The addition of a restartable HAPS stage enables the deployment of spacecraft at multiple orbital altitudes, allowing unique mission tailoring and cost sharing among several small satellites requiring different orbits.
  • The MPP enables the deployment of up to 12 small satellites, consisting of four ESPA-class satellites, four smaller secondary satellites and four P-POD carriers.

Orbital has six additional Minotaur IV missions scheduled on its launch manifest, the next of which is the TacSat-4 mission for the Air Force, which will also originate from Kodiak, Alaska.

Orbital conducted the Minotaur IV STP-S26 launch under the Air Force’s Orbital/Suborbital-2 contract, which is managed by the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), located at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. The Space Development and Test Wing, based at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., oversees Minotaur launches for SMC.