Minotaur-C delivers SkySat satellites during first mission after six years

After lasting six years break Orbital ATK Minotaur-C rocket raised over Vandenberg Air Force base with ten satellites under its fairing. 

Perfect weather at SLC-576E launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base made possible first launch of Minotaur-C rocket since failed mission of 3110 model with Glory, KySat-1, Hermes and Explorer-1 satellites. Last time rocket also was launched from SLC-576E and failed twice on February 24, 2009 and on October 4, 2011. Rocket previously was operated under another name: Taurus XL.

In both cases problems were caused by payload fairing which failed to separate. These two failures (with another in 2001) caused that Taurus XL felt off the flight schedule of Orbital ATK for another years. This time mission was tenth flight of Minotaur-C/taurus XL since March 13, 1994 when it performed its maiden flight.

Launch preparations were reduced only toto day to tests and monitoring parameters of the vehicle and satellites. As fully solid fueled vehicle, Minotaur-C requires minimum care before launch - on the launch site there is no moving gantry or supporting towers. Countdown was planned with two 20 minutes hold points with T=0 at 21:37 UTC.

Punctually at 21:37 UTC rocket started to raise over the launch pad. At T+30" rocket passed through 1 Ma and powered by Castor 120 first stage (with engine generating 1606.6 kN) set its course to South. reaching max Q point at T+45". Seconds later first stage separated and 45 seconds later second stage Orion-50S XLT was ignited. After 1 minute break in receiving telemetry (21:40 UTC -21:41 UTC) rocket jettisoned payload fairing and jettisoned burned second stage.  At T+4'30" third stage completed its burn and rocket entered into planned for four minutes ballistic phase of flight. At 21:46 UTC fourth stage Orion-38was ignited and 2 minutes later rocket reached planned 500 km orbit to deploy four SkySat satellites along with six Flock-3M observation satellites. At T+20' all satellites were deployed - at T=16' first four SkySat satellites were released, after around 90 seconds Flock-3M started to be deployed.

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