Spaceflight Insider

Orbital ATK eyeing new date for Minotaur-C launch with SkySat

Minotaur-C launch

Archive photo of a Minotaur-C launch. Image Credit: Orbital ATK

Wanting a chance to further verify and carry out routine testing of their Minotaur-C rocket, the Dulles, Virginia-based firm Orbital ATK announced on Wednesday, October 11, 2017, that it has requested a later launch date for the solid-propellant fueled rocket. At present, a new launch date is not available. 

If it flies before the end of this year (2017) it will mark the second flight of one of Orbital ATK’s Minotaur rockets. The first was the ORS-5 flight from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 46 in Florida on August 26, 2017.

The Minotaur-C

The Minotaur-C (formerly known as Taurus) is a four-stage, solid-fueled launch vehicle manufactured by Orbital ATK. The rocket is based on the air-launched Pegasus system and is capable of launching a payload of up to 3,500 pounds (1,590 kilograms); it has a height of 97 to 104 feet (30 to 32 meters) and a mass of 170,000 pounds (77,000 kilograms).

The Minotaur-C utilizes four Orbital ATK solid rocket motors as its propulsion system: the first stage (#0), an Orbital ATK Castor-120, is based on a Peacekeeper ICBM first stage; the second and third stages (#1 and #2) are Orion-50 boosters (similar to the Pegasus but without wings or stabilizers); the fourth stage (#3) is an Orion-38 engine.

Minotaur-C Trajectory

The trajectory of a Minotaur-C rocket. Image Credit: Orbital ATK

Mission and spacecraft

The purpose of this particular mission is to launch six SkySat Earth-observation satellites for Planet Labs, Inc., a U.S. private Earth-imaging company based out of San Francisco, California. The satellites will be utilized to obtain high-resolution imagery for the commercial market. This mission will also include four Dove CubeSats that will be deployed from Tyvak RailPODs.

The SkySat constellation – which is currently made up of seven SkySats (two of which are prototypes) and will soon comprise 13 spacecraft – is the world’s largest commercial fleet of high-resolution sub-meter satellites operating in orbit around the Earth.

Each SkySat satellite is equipped with a Ritchey-Chretien Cassegrain telescope with three 5.5-megapixel CMOS imaging detectors. Each spacecraft has a mass of approximately 265 pounds (120 kilograms) and a service life of at least 6 years. The satellites are designed to operate in a polar inclined, circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 280 miles (450 kilometers) above our world.

So far, an unprecedented number of 271 Dove CubeSats have been successfully deployed in Earth orbit. These mini-satellites, built and operated by Planet Labs, collect more imagery per day than any other commercial provider. Each CubeSat is of a 3U configuration and has a mass of 11 pounds (5 kilograms).

Collectively, the remote-sensing satellite network of Dove and SkySats provides global land imagery information to businesses, governments, and NGOs around the world.



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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