WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) plans to conduct in 2015 or 2016 test flight of an experimental spacecraft, dubbed Eagle, that can hold multiple payloads in various orbits, according to a service official.
The initial test flight of an experimental spacecraft platform that Orbital Sciences Corp. is building for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is targeted for launch aboard an Atlas 5 or Delta 4 sometime between late 2015 and late 2016, according to an Air Force official.
The Air Force awarded Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences a $32 million contract Aug. 23 to develop a spacecraft platform capable of hosting multiple payloads in various orbits. The platform is based on the Air Force-developed Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) ring, which allows United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets to carry multiple piggyback payloads.
The so-called ESPA Augmented Geostationary Laboratory Experiment Platform — Eagle for short — will accommodate a maximum payload mass of 1,086 kilograms, Harold Baker, the research laboratory’s Eagle program manager, said Nov. 5 via email. He said Eagle’s first flight is slated for the U.S. government’s 2016 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016.
Orbital’s contract runs through August 2017. It was awarded about a week after the U.S. Government Accountability Office denied a bid protest by Millennium Space Systems of Torrance, Calif.
The maneuverable Eagle platform will be able to host payloads in multiple orbits but officials will initially develop the program with a focus on geostationary orbit, Baker said.
The Eagle platform will be able to operate in geosynchronous, geostationary transfer or low Earth orbit. It is designed to hold six payloads for at least one year in geosynchronous orbit.