Northrop Grumman wins $45.6 million contract to launch Space Force weather smallsat

Northrop Grumman has won $45.6 million contract from the Space Force to launch a weather smallsat, using its Minotaur-4 rocket that was formerly a military ICBM.

The weather satellite, built by General Atomics, is part of an effort by the military to stop building its big expensive and continuously delayed weather satellites and instead buy the services from the private sector. This three year demonstration mission will prove whether General Atomics’ weather satellite can do the job. The Space Force has also contracted with Orion Space Systems to test its own weather satellite in orbit.

For Northrop Grumman, this contract helps keep its launch business alive while it awaits a new American engine for its Antares rocket, replacing the Russian engines it has previously depended on.

Northrop Grumman launches U.S. reconnaissance satellites

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman today successfully used its Minotaur-4 rocket to launch four U.S. reconnaissance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Minotaur-4 is essentially re-purposed military ICBM that had been decommissioned, refurbished, and upgraded for orbital flight. This was its first launch from Wallops Island in Virginia. This was also Northrop Grumman’s second launch this year, which still leaves them out of the 2020 launch race leader board:

16 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia

Today’s launch however puts the U.S. ahead of China in the national rankings, 17 to 16.

Orbital ATK prepares Cape Canaveral launchpad for July Minotaur launch

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK crews on Sunday practiced stacking stages on a Cape Canaveral launchpad in preparation for a July Minotaur 4 launch of an Air Force surveillance satellite.

Teams this weekend stacked three inert Peacekeeper missiles stages on a launch stand similar to those that will make up the Minotaur IV rocket’s first three stages. Two more Orion 38 stages will fill out the rocket. On Sunday, the first three stages standing more than 50 feet tall were surrounded by puffy white covers that will keep the right temperature during the launch campaign’s summer heat.

Plans called for the mobile gantry to be rolled back on rails to its launch position before the stages are taken down on Monday.

Orbital ATK has been prevented from expanding its Minotaur 4 market beyond military launches because the rocket uses these available but now unused Peacekeeper missiles and is thus very inexpensive. Their competitors have been their influence in Congress to forbid their use commercially.