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Orbital Minotaur Launches US Missile Defense Agency NFIRE Satellite

An artist's conception shows the Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) spacecraft monitoring the ascent of a ballistic missile from orbit.

ATK Propulsion and Composite Technologies Support Minotaur Launch of the NFIRE
Minneapolis, April 24 - Alliant Techsystems solid propulsion and composite technologies supported the successful launch yesterday of an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur launch vehicle from Wallops Island, Virginia. The launch placed the Missile Defense Agency's experimental NFIRE spacecraft in orbit. ATK supplied the Orion 50XL and Orion 38 motors that served as Minotaur's third and fourth stages, respectively. These stages are manufactured in its Salt Lake City facility. In addition to being used on Minotaur space launch vehicles that Orbital produces under the U.S. Air Force's Orbital/Suborbital program, Orion motors are used on their highly successful, Taurus XL and air-launched Pegasus XL vehicle. ATK's Clearfield, Utah facility produced the 50" and 38" diameter composite cases for the second and third stage motors, and the composite interstage that joins the two. ATK's Flexseal assemblies also allow the rocket motor nozzle to change the angle of thrust for steering control while providing a critical seal between the rocket motor and the nozzle.
by Staff Writers
Dulles VA (SPX) Apr 26, 2007
Orbital Sciences reports that its Minotaur I rocket has launched the Near Field InfraRed Experiment (NFIRE) spacecraft for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and U.S. Air Force. The Minotaur I was launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

At approximately 2:47 a.m. (EDT), the rocket's first stage ignited, beginning the mission into low-Earth orbit. Approximately 9 minutes later, the Minotaur I deployed the NFIRE spacecraft in its targeted orbit of approximately 250 km (135 nautical miles) by 450 km (245 nautical miles) above the Earth's surface at an inclination of 48.2 degrees to the equator.

This mission was the second Minotaur I launch from the MARS facility, following the initial mission conducted just over four months ago on December 16, 2006. The mission was the seventh flight of the Minotaur I space launch vehicle (SLV), and the 13th overall launch of the Minotaur program since 2000, all of which have been successful.

"We are very pleased to once again provide reliable, on-schedule launch services for the U.S. Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC)," said Mr. Ron Grabe, Orbital's Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Launch Systems Group.

"We are now focused on the three upcoming Minotaur launches in the second half of this year, including two Minotaur II long-range target vehicles scheduled for MDA flights this summer from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and another Minotaur I mission scheduled to be launched from Wallops late in the year carrying the Air Force's TacSat-3 spacecraft."

The overall launch service and management for the Minotaur I vehicle was provided by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center's, Space Development and Test Wing (SDTW) at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

Most of the Minotaur launch vehicle hardware originally intended for the NFIRE launch vehicle was used to integrate and launch the TacSat-2 spacecraft in December 2006. Therefore, Orbital built and integrated a new launch vehicle to support NFIRE in less than 11 months from contract initiation until launch.

NFIRE is a low-Earth orbiting, 494 kg (1,089 lbs) satellite with an onboard Track Sensor Payload (TSP) and TESAT Laser Communications Terminal (LCT) as the primary payloads. The spacecraft is part of MDA's Kinetic Energy Boost-Phase research program. NFIRE will gather near-field, high-resolution phenomenology data that will assist in the development of boost-phase intercept systems.

The spacecraft has a two-year design life, during which various data collection missions will be conducted, including gathering data during the flight of launch vehicles during their boost phase. As part of this testing, the next two Minotaur II target vehicles will be launched from Vandenberg later this year.

The launch of the Minotaur II NFIRE target vehicles will demonstrate new technologies for the Minotaur family of launch vehicles that are applicable to responsive launch capabilities, such as will be needed to support Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) and other rapid-response launch requirements.

Because of the complexities of the upcoming missions, the Minotaur II vehicles will have specific trajectory information uploaded only 90 minutes prior to launch, as may also be necessary for some ORS space launch missions.

Minotaur I launches have put a total of 25 satellites into orbit. This is the seventh consecutive successful launch of the Minotaur I vehicle since January 2000, and there have been six successful Minotaur II launches during that same period as well. Over the next three years, Minotaur rockets are currently manifested to conduct another six launches.

earlier related report
General Dynamics-Built Missile Defense Agency Satellite is Successfully Launched into Orbit
Fairfax, VA (SPX) Apr 26 - The Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE), built by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, a business unit of General Dynamics was successfully launched into low earth orbit from the NASA facility at Wallops Island, Va.

The mission of the Missile Defense Agency's NFIRE is to collect scientific data that will be used to help with the development of future missile defense technology efforts. The primary Track Sensor Payload will collect images of the exhaust plume from two rockets to be launched later this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The secondary payload is a laser communications terminal, built by Tesat- Spacecom of Germany, that will be used to evaluate the utility of laser communications as part of a U.S./Germany cooperative for scientific activity.

General Dynamics is the system integrator for the NFIRE mission, responsible for the design and manufacture of the spacecraft, payload integration, full satellite system testing, configuration of the mission operation centers and one year of on-orbit operations support.

"General Dynamics is a leader in space-based applications for missile defense and we're committed to supporting the Missile Defense Agency," said David Shingledecker, vice president and general manager of integrated space systems for General Dynamics.

"Our highly successful mission-assurance track record of providing low-cost, reliable and high-performance spacecraft continues with NFIRE."

Related Links
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Minotaur Launched From NASA Wallops Flight Facility
Wallops Island VA (SPX) Apr 25, 2007
An Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket was successfully launched at 2:48 a.m. EDT today from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Va. The four-stage rocket carried the Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) satellite.

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