WASHINGTON — The Orbital Sciences Corp. Taurus 2 rocket slated to make its maiden launch in early 2012 as part of a NASA-sponsored demonstration program will carry four nanosatellites into space under an agreement with Spaceflight Inc., a Seattle-based company that books rides for secondary payloads.
Spaceflight President and Chief Executive Jason Andrews said Nov. 16 his company recently signed contracts with two customers to launch a total of four tiny satellites on Taurus 2 when the medium-lift rocket makes its debut, currently targeted for February.
Andrews said the company previously reached a separate agreement with Orbital to carry the nanosatellites aboard the Cygnus mass simulator Taurus 2 will launch on the upcoming test flight. Cygnus is an unmanned vehicle Orbital is developing in parallel with the Taurus 2 to deliver cargo to the international space station under a $1.9 billion NASA contract.
Under a contract with an unidentified U.S. government customer, Spaceflight will integrate three cubesats, each measuring 10 centimeters on a side, into a single Isipod cubesat deployer built by the Dutch firm Innovative Solutions in Space. Under a separate contract with an unnamed commercial customer, Spaceflight will integrate a triple-sized cubesat into a second Isipod deployer. Both Isipods will be integrated into the Cygnus mass simulator and deployed once Taurus 2 reaches orbit, according to Andrews.
“We are signing these contracts a few months before launch, which is a testament to this new business model as well as the cooperation and capabilities of the Orbital team,” Andrews said.
Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski confirmed that the Taurus 2 will carry the Spaceflight-brokered payloads in its debut but declined to provide details.
Orbital disclosed in October that a pad certification issue at its Wallops Island, Va., launch site would delay the flight until late February or early March.
That flight will be followed, in early May, by a Taurus 2 launch of a Cygnus cargo tug on a demonstration mission to the space station. If all goes well, Orbital would make its first operational cargo delivery to the station in late August or early September.
Orbital is one of two U.S. companies under contract with NASA to deliver cargo to the space station. The other company, Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (), successfully launched its reusable Dragon capsule into orbit last December. A second, and perhaps final, demonstration mission is targeted for early 2012 when SpaceX hopes to berth Dragon with the space station for the first time.