Orbital ATK Prepares for July 2017 Minotaur IV Launch from CCAFS LC-46

CAPE CANAVERAL: Representatives from Space Florida and Orbital ATK conducted a tour of Launch Complex 46 yesterday. Space Florida is coordinating refurbishments to bring the dormant LC-46 pad back for the launch of a Minotaur-IV rocket.

History of LC-46

A crane from Beyel Cranes lowers the umbilical tower at LC-46 in preparation for the Minotaur launch.
A crane from Beyel Cranes lowers the umbilical tower at LC-46.

Located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, LC-46 was used for 19 launches from 1987 through 1999. Primarily used for Trident II, the pad was also used for two Athena launches. The pad has been unused since 1999. This is the north pad of Launch Complex 46. Media were advised not to shoot photos of activity at the south side of LC-46.

About ORS-5

The Mobile Service Tower rolls away on these tracks. Space Florida has rolled the tower about five times before yesterday.
The Mobile Service Tower rolls away on these tracks. Space Florida has rolled the tower about five times before yesterday.

The Minotaur-IV rocket will lift ORS-5, a spacecraft for the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space program. ORS-5 is a mission to answer a USSTRATCOM need in Space Situational Awareness (SSA). The ORS-5 program has contracted with MIT/Lincoln Labs Federally Funded Research and Development Center to
develop, build, and launch an operational demonstration of the SensorSat space vehicle. The ORS-5 mission also would act as a pathfinder for technologies to be used in a follow-on to the current Space Based Space Surveillance satellite.

About the Minotaur-IV Rocket

The umbilical tower reaches the rocket stand.
The umbilical tower reaches the rocket stand.

While this is the first Minotaur-IV launch from Cape Canaveral, Orbital ATK has conducted 19 previous launches at other US-based pads including Vandenberg and Wallops Island. The Air Force has a tricky requirement of a equatorial orbit for this spacecraft. CCAFS is positioned to help achieve that orbit. This will be a five-stage rocket. There are three decommissioned ICBM boosters on the bottom. The fourth stage is an Orion 38. A fifth stage, called the Insertion Stage has another Orion 38. It will take over 31 minutes after launch to deliver the spacecraft to Orbit.

Currently, this is the only Minotaur-IV mission scheduled for the Cape. According to Terry Luchi, Director of Minotaur programs for Orbital ATK: “The state of Florida and Space Florida have made an investment in this project and we would like to bring more missions here. We are ready to do that.”

Beyond Orbital ATK, NASA is planning on using the refurbished LC-46 for a test of the Orion Crew Capsule’s in-flight abort system. After that, Space Florida is looking for other customers who could use the pad.

Umbilical Tower

Banners from various partner agencies ring LC-46
Banners from various partner agencies ring LC-46

On Sunday, Orbital ATK stacked two inert rocket stages and a Beyel crane lowered the umbilical tower into place. Later, plans were to roll the mobile gantry into launch position. By Monday, the rocket stages would be removed and the umbilical tower would remain.

Space Florida and the State of Florida have contributed $4 million to renovations.

Modern Underground Bunker

In addition to refurbishments above ground, Space Florida has refurbished an underground communications bunker at the pad. New Air Conditioning units will provide cooled air to keep the rocket cool in the July heat. Racks of servers will relay rocket status information to a launch control center in Hangar A-O. This was my first opportunity to see any of the underground rooms at a launch pad and several people asked if any personnel would be positioned in the bunker for the launch. There will not be anyone in the bunker. But, there are several cameras mounted in the room to record the vibrations in the bunker. There is also a likelihood of vapors from the rocket fuel seeping into the underground bunker.

Space Florida modernized this communications center under the pad.
Space Florida modernized this communications center under the pad.

Bill Jelen

When Bill is not covering Florida launches, he is the host of MrExcel.com and the author of 49 books about Microsoft Excel.