USAF and Orbital ATK prepare for launch of ORS-5 mission
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — With its Flight Readiness Review complete, an Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket sits poised to launch the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)-5 satellite. ORS-5 is set to take to the skies from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46) in Florida atop a Minotaur IV rocket. If everything proceeds as it is currently scheduled, the flight will take place during a four-hour launch window that opens at 11:15 p.m. EDT on August 25 (03:15 GMT on August 26), 2017.
ORS-5 was safely cocooned within its payload fairing back on August 11 at the Astrotech Space Operations processing facility located in Titusville, Florida. It was then mated with the Minotaur IV three days later on August 14.
Once it had been fully integrated, the satellite was placed through a series of tests in preparation for both its launch as well as its planned activities on orbit. Some of these tests included subcomponent, component, and full satellite comprehensive functional testing, as well as vibration testing, thermal vacuum testing, final integrated systems testing, and factory compatibility testing (as noted in a U.S. Air Force release).
All total, the mission cost an estimated $87.5 million with the ORS-5 satellite itself costing approximately $49 million, $11.3 million for the ground support systems, and the launch costing about $27.2 million.
“The delivery and upcoming launch of ORS-5 marks a significant milestone in fulfilling our commitment to the space situational awareness mission and U.S. Strategic Command,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force program executive officer for Space via a release. “It’s an important asset for the warfighter and will be employed for at least three years.”
The ORS-5 satellite is small compared to other spacecraft that are sent into the black of space, measuring a mere five feet in length (some 1.5 meters) and about two-and-a-half feet (about 0.8 meters) in width. The spacecraft weighs a mere 250 pounds (113 kilograms) and is planned to operate in low-Earth orbit at zero degrees inclination during the checkout and testing phase of its mission. It will orbit at a distance of some 372 miles (599 kilometers) during the course of its design life.
It is hoped that, if everything goes as planned, ORS-5 will assist in the U.S. military’s tracking of other satellites as well as space debris, at least those that are in geosynchronous orbit, 22,236 miles (35,785 kilometers) above the equator.
According to the U.S. Air Force, this region of space is frequently used by defense-related communications satellites, television broadcasting stations, and international space platforms.
The ORS-5 mission is designed to provide space situational awareness capabilities. More importantly, in an era of developing less-expensive ways of accomplishing objectives, ORS-5 could provide similar services as larger, more complicated spacecraft.
The satellite will also serve as a “gap-filler” mission for the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) Block 10 mission (a successor SBSS mission is currently not expected to be sent aloft prior to 2021).
ORS-5 is equipped with a lone optical sensor which grants the satellite continuous, un-cued, rapid GEO belt search to detect changes and provide precise regional awareness (according to a statement issued by the U.S. Air Force).
“This is my first launch as the ORS director, and I am thrilled to see this mission get one step closer to operational capability,” said Col. Shahnaz Punjani, director of the Operationally Responsive Space Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. “As a former launch group commander, it is also very exciting to be part of the first Minotaur launch from Cape Canaveral. Our partners at the 45th Space Wing, Orbital ATK, and Space Florida did a tremendous job restoring Launch Complex 46 to active service and preparing it for this launch.”
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, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.