Orbital ATK Revives Minotaur C for Planet Launch

Orbital ATK announced that its Minotaur C rocket — formerly known as Taurus — successfully launched 10 commercial spacecraft for Planet in the afternoon hours of Halloween, Oct. 31. The rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying six SkySat and four Dove satellites for the Earth Observation (EO) company.

The launch comes nearly seven years after Orbital ATK experienced three launch failures on the same rocket — a triple whammy that forced the launch provider to make major revisions to its design. In 2011, after the rocket failed to orbit NASA’s Glory mission due to a payload fairing malfunction, Orbital ATK redesigned the Taurus to include features of its Pegasus rocket and Minotaur family of vehicles.

The new upgraded Minotaur C is capable of launching payloads up to 3,500 lbs., Orbital ATK stated. The configuration that launched on Halloween included four solid rocket commercial motors: Castor 120, Orion 50S XL, Orion 50 XL and Orion 38. Orbital ATK built all four motors at facilities in Clearfield, Magna, and Promontory, Utah, and manufactured the avionics, software and separation systems at facilities in Chandler, Arizona.

SSL, which manufactured the six SkySat satellites, announced on Nov. 1 that the assets made initial contact with ground stations according to plan. Called SkySat 8 through 13, the six satellites double Planet’s high resolution imaging and change detection capabilities, and bring the total number of satellites in the SkySat constellation to 10.

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