Minotaur IV launch postponed 6 weeks
A Minotaur IV rocket scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in mid-July has been delayed to late August, according to the U.S. Air Force. The entirely solid-fueled Minotaur IV was scheduled to fly out of Launch Complex 46 at CCAFS in mid-July.
The press office at Patrick Air Force Base, which handles press affairs for CCAFS, told SpaceFlight Insider the launch will take place around the last week of August but declined to be more specific. No reason for the delay was given.
The rocket is slated to carry a small satellite called SensorSat for the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office. The spacecraft is officially designated ORS-5, as it is the fifth launch of the ORS program.
SensorSat will be launched into a “novel” low-Earth orbit, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, which is cooperating with the ORS on this spacecraft. Once there, it will look toward geostationary orbit – the band of satellites whose orbital period is the same as Earth’s rotational period, making them appear to “hover” over one spot on the Earth. SensorSat will observe the debris of defunct and damaged satellites.
This debris, also called space junk, is of increasing concern to all spacecraft operators. Since collisions between uncontrolled satellites or junk can often spawn many more pieces of debris, it’s possible for one such collision to create a chain reaction, spreading more debris across all of Earth’s orbital space and denying everyone the use of Earth orbit. This chain reaction is called the Kessler Syndrome after the NASA scientist who first described the possibility.
The rocket carrying SensorSat is made by Orbital ATK. Minotaur rockets are derived, in part, from Peacekeeper missiles. They are usually launched from Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia, but they have also lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as well as from Kodiak Island Launch Complex in Alaska. This is to the be first Minotaur fly from Florida in the history of the program.
The Minotaur IV usually has four stages, the last being a single Orion 38 solid fueled stage, but this mission will carry an additional Orion 38 to help SensorSat achieve its desired orbit.
The ORS office expects a follow-on launch of a similar spacecraft sometime in the future, but no schedule is set.
Christopher Paul has had a lifelong interest in spaceflight. He began writing about his interest in the Florida Tech Crimson. His primary areas of interest are in historical space systems and present and past planetary exploration missions. He lives in Kissimmee, Florida, and also enjoys cooking and photography. Paul saw his first Space Shuttle launch in 2005 when he moved to central Florida to attend classes at the Florida Institute of Technology, studying space science, and has closely followed the space program since. Paul is especially interested in the renewed effort to land crewed missions on the Moon and to establish a permanent human presence there. He has covered several launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral for space blogs before joining SpaceFlight Insider in mid-2017.