Northrop Grumman Successfully Launches Minotaur I Rocket for the National Reconnaissance Office

The Minotaur I rocket was launched from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Flight extends flawless record of Minotaur product line to 28 missions

WALLOPS, Va. – June 15, 2021 – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) launched its Minotaur I rocket today at 9:35 a.m. EDT, successfully placing a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload into orbit. The Minotaur I was launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0B at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.


USAF Awards Minotaur I Launch Contract to Orbital ATK

Minotaur I launch. (Credit: NASA)
Minotaur I launch. (Credit: NASA)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USAF PR) — The U.S. Air Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program, part of the Launch Enterprise Directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), awarded the National Reconnaissance Office Launch-111 contract to Orbital ATK.

The contract is a firm-fixed-price contract valued at $29.2 million for a Minotaur I launch vehicle. This was the first such award under the Orbital/Suborbital Program 3 (OSP-3) Lane 1 capability. The OSP-3 contract Lane 1 capability is for 400-4,000 lbs. (181-1,810 kg) to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and long-range, sub-orbital missions.


Orbital ATK’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicles Facing Increased Competition

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

Recently, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the use of surplus intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to launch satellites. Orbital ATK would like to lift the ban on using them to launch commercial satellites, the U.S. Air Force would like to find a way to sell the engines, and an emerging commercial launch industry that doesn’t want what it considers government-subsidized competition.

Now, you’ve probably been wondering a few things. What does Orbital ATK do with these engines? What does it launch on them? And what launch vehicles are in operation or in development to compete with these boosters?

Those are all great questions. And now the answers.


Ball Aerospace Turns Over Test Satellite Operations to Air Force

Ball Aerospace's STPSat-3 satellite. (Credit: Ball Aerospace)
Ball Aerospace’s STPSat-3 satellite. (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

BOULDER, Colo (Ball Aerospace PR) — Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. announced on Jan. 10, 2014, that operational control of the Space Test Program Satellite-3 (STPSat-3) has been handed over to the U.S. Air Force as the spacecraft begins its technology demonstration mission.

The Ball-built STPSat-3 launched from Wallops Flight Center in Virginia on November 19, 2013 aboard a Minotaur I, along with 28 CubeSats as part of the Operationally Responsive Space-3 (ORS-3) mission. The spacecraft was fully checked out and operational within 71 hours of launch, nearly three hours ahead of schedule.


Minotaur I Launch Updates and Viewing Options

Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation
Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation

Live coverage available at:

UPDATE 4:  Launch at 8:15 p.m. was nominal. The primary payload, a defense satellite, was deployed as planned.  The deployment of 28 Cubesats will take place out out of the range of ground tracking stations. We’re awaiting word on the success of those deployments.

UPDATE 3 at 7:30 p.m. EST: Count has resumed. New launch time is 8:15 p.m. EST.

UPDATE 2 at 7:11 p.m. EST:  Issue with tracking site identified. Will resume count at T-1 hour after tests completed.

UPDATE 1 at 6:48 p.m. EST:  T-1 hour and holding at 6:30 p.m. Continuing to work tracking site issue. Launch window runs until 9:15 p.m. EST

Via NASA — A United States Air Force Minotaur I rocket is scheduled to lift-off at 7:30 p.m. EST, Nov.19, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad-0B at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The Minotaur will launch the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office’s ORS-3 mission, which features the deployment of 29 satellites in space.

The launch window is 7:30 to 9:15 p.m.  The backup launch days run through November 26.

The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague Island National Seashore will be open for viewing the launch.  Visitors to Assateague need to be on the island by 6 p.m. before the entrance gate closes.

The night launch will be visible up and down the East Coast (see above map). Orbital Sciences Corporation has an additional map showing elevations as well as images with sample views from different locations along the East Coast here.

Live coverage of the launch is available via UStream beginning at 6:30 p.m. EST on launch day at:

Launch status can be followed on launch day on Twitter at: and Facebook at:

Launch status also is available on the Wallops launch status line at 757-824-2050.

For more information on the ORS-3 mission, visit:

Minotaur I Record Satellite Launch Includes First Student Built CubeSat & PhoneSat 2.4

Artist conception of TJ3Sat in orbit. (Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation)
Artist conception of student-built TJ3Sat in orbit. (Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Virg. (NASA & OSC PRs) — The United States Air Force Minotaur I rocket scheduled for launch on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. from Virginia will carry a record number of satellites — 29 — into orbit. The rocket will launch a defense test spacecraft and 28 small CubeSats,  including the first satellite designed and built by high school students and PhoneSat 2.4, a second generation smartphone mission.

The Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office’s ORS-3 mission will demonstrate and validate launch and range improvements for NASA and the military. These include automated trajectory targeting, range-safety planning and flight termination systems. The launch also will be part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) certification process for the Minotaur rocket. The FAA has licensing authority over American commercial rockets.

The Minotaur’s primary payload is the Space Test Program Satellite-3 (STPSat-3), an Air Force technology-demonstration mission. Thirteen small cubesats aboard are being provided through NASA’s Cubesat Launch Initiative.


Busy Launch Week Begins on Monday with MAVEN Flight

Launch of Atlas V NRO satellite on June 20, 2012. (Credit: ULA)
Launch of Atlas V NRO satellite on June 20, 2012. (Credit: ULA)

The numbers are impressive.

  • 6 launches
  • 6 launch vehicles
  • ~ 40 satellites
  • 5 spaceports
  • 4 nations
  • 7 days.

That is the week in rocketry that will begin on Monday. The highlights include:

  • NASA’s MAVEN orbiter will study Mars’ atmosphere and climate (Monday, Nov. 18 at 1:28 p.m. EST — Cape Canaveral, Florida );
  • Minotaur I will set a new record for the number of satellites launched into space with by sending the military’s STPSat 3 and 29 CubeSats into orbit (Tuesday, Nov. 19 from 7:30 to 9:15 pm EST — Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Virginia);
  • SpaceX will attempt to put its first communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit using its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket (Monday, Nov. 25 at 5:37 pm EST — Cape Canaveral, Florida).

Three additional launches will take place from Russia and Kazakhstan over that 7-day period. A table with all scheduled launches is below along with a map showing East Coast residents how they can view Minotaur I’s night launch on Tuesday.