WASHINGTON — Following last week’s high-profile launch of a NASA Moon probe from Virginia’s Wallops Island, the launch facility is getting ready to send a second small satellite into orbit this year atop a converted intercontinental ballistic missile. 

The Orbital Sciences Corp.-provided Minotaur 5 rocket that launched NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft Sept. 6 shortly before midnight on the East Coast left a streak of fire visible from Maine to South Carolina. 

A smaller Minotaur 1 relying on solid-rocket motors from decommissioned Minuteman missiles for its initial boost is slated to launch in early November carrying an experimental U.S. Defense Department satellite recently delivered to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a state-run facility co-located with NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. 

The satellite, the STPSat-3, was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., in 47 days and is the second spacecraft in an experimental Defense Department program to quickly build and launch satellites.

“STPSat-3 will demonstrate the robust SIV spacecraft by carrying five payloads and a de-orbit module,” Rob Strain, president of Ball Aerospace and former director of NASA’s Greenbelt, Md.-based Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a Sept. 6 statement announcing that the satellite — built on Ball’s Standard Interface Vehicle (SIV) platform — had arrived at Wallops for its planned Nov. 4 launch. 

Looking further ahead, the STPSat-3 spacecraft will carry five payloads including missions to measure plasma densities and solar irradiances.  They include:

  • a U.S. Air Force Academy mission designed to measure plasma densities and energies;
  • a Naval Research Laboratory wind and temperature mission to help characterize the Earth’s ionosphere and thermosphere;
  • a directed energy experiment from the Air Force Research Lab;
  • a NASA/NOAA mission to collect precise measurements of total solar irradiance;
  • and a space phenomenology mission.

 The STPSat-3 launch also will include the release of several cubesats.

While there was immediate word on whether the STPSat-3 launch will take place at night or during daylight hours, the next launch out of Wallops will definitely be a daytime launch.  

Orbital Sciences is slated to launch its unmanned Cygnus cargo tug Sept. 17 on a NASA-sponsored demonstration flight to the international space station. Lift off is scheduled for 11:16 a.m. EDT.

 Orbital Sciences kicked off Wallops’ busy 2013 in April with the maiden launch of the Antares rocket the Dulles, Va.-based company built to carry Cygnus on at least eight paid cargo runs station. The first of those paid runs is slated to lift off from Wallops between Dec. 11 and Jan. 10, according to a NASA manifest. 

Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...