Orbital ATK announced that it had secured a $23.6 million contract to launch the US Air Force’s ORS-5 satellite on its Minotaur 4 rocket. With an anticipated launch date set for the second quarter of 2017, the US Air Force’s ORS-5 space surveillance satellite, also known as the SensorSat, is currently being designed and produced by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. The MIT team plans to use the satellite to scan and survey the geosynchronous-orbit belt from a low-Earth orbit vantage point.
Originally, the US Air Force envisioned launching ORS-5 at a lower program cost of $20 million. However, according to Col. John Anttonen, director of the Operationally Responsive Space Office located at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, no current launch service provider is able to meet that target price. The Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK was the only company to submit a bid to the US Air Force’s solicitation for a $20 million launch, according to a statement released this month from the US Department of Defense.
“We went out and asked industry: ‘Can you meet $20 million?,’” Anttonen explained. “A lot of the new space vendor concepts that are out there came back and said yes. But they have never built a rocket yet. The folks that have built the rockets or done the rideshares came back said we can’t meet it but only because you’re going to a highly unique orbit. You’re going to zero degrees. They came back and said we can do $30 million. We said all right. Not bad. It’s an improvement over where we were.”
The Operationally Responsive Space Office had previously contracted Orbital ATK’s Minotaur 4 rocket before. In 2011, the Minotaur 4 was the platform of choice to launch the US Navy’s Tactical Satellite-4 experimental communications satellite from the Alaska Aerospace Development Corp.’s Kodiak Launch Complex.
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