Letter: ‘Qualified Success’ Sells Pegasus Short

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I recently read your editorial “Don’t Shortchange ALASA” [Nov. 21, page 18], with which I generally agree. However, I was dismayed by your description of our Pegasus program as the “one qualified success” of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in space launch vehicles and by the inattention to the historical facts of its development and operations. Contrary to your interpretation, the Pegasus program, as measured against virtually any common space industry benchmark, has been an “unqualified” success for more than two decades.

The facts and figures provided below demonstrate nearly a quarter-century of considerably greater than “qualified” successes for Pegasus:

Since its market introduction 23 years ago, 42 Pegasus rockets have been ordered by customers, 40 of which have flown to date. In each of its last 26 launches, spanning nearly a 15-year period since early 1997, Pegasus has been fully successful. Those in the space launch business appreciate that 26 consecutive flawless launches cannot be achieved through “qualified” technical and operational performance.

Pegasus has launched over 80 satellites into orbit for 14 different government agencies and companies. Many of these spacecraft have made vital contributions to critical Earth and space science investigations, national security missions and commercial communications and imaging applications. The customers for these missions have been much more than “qualified” in their satisfaction with Pegasus’ contributions to their programs.

Derivatives of the basic Pegasus vehicle — such as the Orbital Boost Vehicle used in the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense national missile defense program, the Hyper-X launch vehicle that boosted NASA’s hypersonic scramjet prototypes, and the Minotaur family of versatile space and suborbital launchers for the U.S. Air Force — have accounted for another 107 orders, 85 vehicle deliveries and 45 launches to date. A total of 149 Pegasus and derived rockets purchased by customers since the late 1980s hardly seems like a “qualified” market response.

Since its inception, the Pegasus program and its derivative products have supported over 25,000 person-years of direct high-tech employment and provided our company with in excess of $3 billion in cumulative revenue. From a financial growth and job creation standpoint, there is nothing “qualified” about these results.

With regard to the historical accuracy of the editorial, your readers also should know that DARPA did not fund the initial development of Pegasus. From conception in 1987 to first flight in 1990, Pegasus was designed, tested and readied for its initial launch in 2.5 years and for a research-and-development investment of approximately $100 million (in current dollars). Orbital and its industrial partner, ATK, paid for the development of this first-ever privately funded space launch vehicle, with DARPA acting as our anchor customer by purchasing the first six launches.

Thank you for your attention, and we hope in the future Space News will more accurately depict our products’ contributions to the space industry.

 
Barron Beneski
Vice president, corporate communications
Orbital Sciences Corp.