WASHINGTON — Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., will launch a NASA lunar orbiter in 2012 aboard a five-stage Minotaur 5 rocket, which is based in part on excess ICBM hardware, under a contract option exercised by the U.S. Air Force, the company announced Sept. 14.
In its debut, the Minotaur 5 will launch NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), according to an Orbital press release. The satellite will orbit the Moon to determine the global density and composition of the lunar atmosphere.
The Minotaur 5 is one of two new rockets Orbital has developed whose first three stages are based on excess U.S. Peacekeeper missile hardware. The Minotaur 4, which features a commercial fourth-stage solid-rocket motor, will make its debut later this year when it launches the Air Force’s Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite. The Minotaur 5 will use commercial fourth and fifth stages to lift payloads weighing up to 650 kilograms to geosynchronous transfer orbit or payloads up to 400 kilograms into Earth-escape trajectories.
The LADEE mission is the 28th launch ordered from the Minotaur family of ICBM-based vehicles since 1997, including suborbital launches, under the Air Force Orbital-Suborbital Program, the press release said. Orbital Sciences spokesman Barry Beneski was not immediately available to provide additional details, including the contract value.