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Wed, Apr 13, 2005

Vandenberg Launches Micro-Satellite

Airmen of the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron launched XSS-11, a self-maneuvering, micro-satellite, into polar orbit, April 11.

An Orbital Suborbital Program Space Launch Vehicle carried the 220-pound satellite designed to further explore, demonstrate and flight-qualify micro-satellite technologies.

The launch vehicle for this mission, the Minotaur I, couples components of retired Minuteman II missiles with upper stage components from the commercial Pegasus rocket to create a low-cost launch vehicle with a 100-percent success rate. These vehicles are available only for government payloads.

“When you talk about the future of space, it’s right here, right now, on this mission,” said Lt. Col. Gary Henry, the squadron’s commander. “Both the launch vehicle and the spacecraft represent state-of-the-art responsive space systems. XSS-11 is only a harbinger of even greater things to come with very small, highly capable spacecraft. Couple this with a responsive, small space lift, and you have a very powerful capability.”

When the XSS-11 reaches orbit, it will rendezvous with a resident space object and perform extended proximity operations including standoff inspection and circumnavigation, which help Air Force Research Laboratory officials test the limits of today’s technology.

Another of the XSS-11 mission goals is to perform space-flight demonstration of technologies needed for NASA’s proposed plans to use spacecraft to collect samples of rocks and soil from Mars and return them to Earth for analysis.

“This is a very exciting mission,” said 1st Lt. Markyves Valentin, Minotaur test program manager. “There is a lot of work that goes into coordinating the many different agencies and players to make a launch happen, all for those few seconds of flight.” [ANN Salutes 1st Lt. Phillip Dobberfuhl, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs, for the story]



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