Single Air Force Launch to Put 28 Satellites in Orbit


A whopping 29 satellites will be put into orbit from a single U.S. Air Force launch next Tuesday evening, November 19. ORS-3 is scheduled to head skyward around 7:30 PM ET from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, VA, carrying a primary satellite designed to monitor space weather and 28 secondary CubeSat payloads.

The primary mission was put together by the U.S. Air Force's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office, located at Kirkland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and is designed to demonstrated, test and verify technologies and processes to enable faster and more cost effective access to space for the military. 

STPSat-3, a space weather satellite, is the primary payload for the mission. Built by Ball Aerospace for the Air Force's Space Test Program (STP). The roughly 220 pound satellite was built using a standardized bus in only 47 days and carries five instruments plus a de-orbit module designed to remove the satellite from orbit once its mission is over.

Smaller CubeSat form factor satellites to fill up the launch capacity of the Orbital Sciences Minotaur I launch vehicle were built by government agencies, universities, and the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.  

A few examples include PhoneSat 2.4 is NASA's fourth CubeSat built around a smartphone. Using off-the-shelf consumer devices packaged into a 10 centimeter cube frame, NASA will operate PhoneSat 2.4 for a couple of years to gather data on how everything holds up under longer duration exposure to background radiation. Black Knight-1 is the U.S. Military Academy's (West Point) first satellite project going into orbit while the University of Kentucky will be flying its second CubeSat.

TJ3Sat, sponsored by Orbital Sciences Corporation and built by over 50 participating students at Thomas Jefferson over seven years, is designed to stimulate interest among K-12 students in aerospace. The primary payload of TJ3Sat is a text-to-speech module that will take selected text message and rebroadcast them on an amateur radio frequency.

The ORS-3 launch also has a number of new tools and procedures have been developed to expedite future operations.  A FAA licensing approach was used to lower launch costs and shorten the mission planning timeline. Automation has been applied to calculating a valid flight trajectory and for developing flight safety mission rules, cutting processes that once took months down to days.

Wallops Island, VA has been quite busy this year and will be through the end of the year.   Orbital has already conducted two Antares flights, with the second successfully putting its new Cygnus spacecraft into orbit for a first successfully meeting with the International Space Station (ISS). It also successfully launched the NASA LADEE moon mission in September. Mid-December will mark Orbital's first commercial cargo flight to ISS under NASA's CRS program with another Antares/Cygnus launch.

Edited by Ryan Sartor

Contributing Editor

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