ORS-3 launch
ORS-3 launched on a Minotaur rocket. Credit: NASA

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – The U.S Air Force successfully launched an experimental Defense Department satellite and 28 secondary payloads Nov. 19 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a state-run facility co-located with NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility here.

The Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)-3 mission carried the STPSat-3 satellite as its main payload, plus 15 additional Defense Department satellites, 12 payloads from universities and one from Thomas Jefferson High School in Northern Virginia. Air Force officials said it marked the first time a satellite built by U.S. high school students was launched into space.

The satellites were launched on an Orbital Sciences Corp.-built Minotaur 1 rocket that relied on solid-rocket motors from decommissioned Minuteman missiles for its initial boost. The mission marked the 25th launch for the Minotaur family of vehicles and the 11th of a Minotaur 1.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital obtained a commercial space transportation license from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for the launch in an arrangement that Air Force officials said helped reduce costs, specifically on verification of the Minotaur vehicle.

The STPSat-3 satellite was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., in 47 days and is the latest in a series of spacecraft developed under a Defense Department program to field space capabilities quickly in response to emerging military needs. Ball officials have said STPSat-3 was built at a cost of about $30 million.

The satellite made contact with ground stations about 90 minutes after launch as expected, Air Force officials said.

The STPSat-3 spacecraft carried five experiments:

• a U.S. Air Force Academy mission designed to measure plasma densities and energies;

• a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory sensor designed to help characterize the Earth’s ionosphere and thermosphere;

• a directed energy experiment from the Air Force Research Laboratory;

• a NASA-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mission to collect precise measurements of total solar irradiance;

• a space phenomenology mission.

The 29 payloads were the most launched during one mission aboard an expendable U.S. rocket, Air Force leaders said.

Among the secondary payloads was PhoneSat 2.4, a second-generation cubesat mission sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. That small satellite will test how smartphones could be used for communications and imagery collection.

The launch was delayed about 45 minutes due to an issue at a range tracking system in Coquina, N.C., said Lou Amorosi, senior vice president of Orbital’s small space launch vehicle business. That problem, due in part to high winds the day before the launch, were resolved relatively quickly, allowing the countdown to resume.

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Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...