NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — The first flight of an experimental low-cost launch system for small satellites and based in Hawaii has been delayed to early next year, an Aerojet Rocketdyne executive said Sept. 16.
The launch of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)-4 mission aboard the rail-launched Super Strypi rocket, originally scheduled for October 2013, had been delayed to November 2014, and now has been pushed to January 2015, said Tyler Evans, vice president of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new Rocket Shop Defense Advanced Programs unit of Sacramento, California. Aerojet Rocketdyne is providing the rocket motors for the launch and is responsible for overall integration of the vehicle.
The delay, requested by the U.S. Air Force’s ORS Office, is due to what Evans described as “priorities at the launch site” at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. The range is used for, among other activities, testing of U.S. missile defense systems.
Air Force officials did not respond to a request for comment.
In August, Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully conducted a third and final hot-fire test at Edwards Air Force Base in California of the first stage of the Super Strypi rocket. Previous tests were held in August 2012 and September 2013.
The three-stage, solid-fueled rocket is being assembled in partnership with the University of Hawaii’s Space Flight Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratory of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The project is called the Low Earth Orbiting Nanosatellite Integrated Defense Autonomous System, or LEONIDAS.
Project officials hope the new launcher, essentially a souped-up sounding rocket, will provide a low-cost launch option for small satellites, including cubesats, which are becoming increasingly popular with universities and government agencies. U.S. defense organizations including the Army, the Air Force and even the National Reconnaissance Office, which is known for building billion-dollar satellites that launch on heavy-lift rockets, have been investing in cubesats in recent years.
“With the proliferation of small-satellite constellations, nano satellites, we believe there are commercial applications here,” Evans said during a Sept. 16 press conference.
The primary satellite on the inaugural Super Strypi launch will gather imagery and monitor the environment during its planned one-year mission. The ORS-4 launch also will carry as many as 15 cubesats flying as secondary payloads, officials have said.
The spin-stabilized, rail-launched Super Strypi launcher is capable of placing as much as 300 kilograms of payload into low Earth orbit. Based on designs developed by Sandia as part of nuclear testing programs dating back to the 1960s, the Super Strypi is ultimately expected to cost about $16 million per mission, officials have said. Evans said that number could be as low as $12 million per mission.
The Super Strypi will be the largest rocket launched from a rail, Aerojet Rocketdyne officials said.
LEONIDAS is one of the flagship programs for Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new Rocket Shop Defense Advanced Programs business unit, which encompasses many of the company’s technology programs and was formally announced Sept. 16.
Officials described the unit as the “innovation arm” of Aerojet Rocketdyne, one which will focus on hypersonics, advanced solid and liquid propellants, and low-cost launch programs, Evans said. The unit also hopes to take advantage of additive manufacturing technology and other state-of-the-art processes, Evans said.