Minotaur finally launches with NFIRE

by Chris Bergin

An Orbital Science Minotaur I launch vehicle has lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pad on the south end of Wallops Island in Virginia at 2:48am Eastern Tuesday, following yesterday’s scrubbed attempt at T-25 minutes due to ground support issues.

The mission is for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, which will use the satellite for data collection for the Pentagon’s ballistic missile defensive system.



NFIRE (Near Field Infrared Experiment) is a small satellite that is capable of observing rocket plumes, collating data on their make-up, allowing for future monitoring of launch activity.
Many of the mission details are classified, although it is known that the satellite will perform its tasks in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), following its ride uphill on the Minotaur I.

The Minotaur I is a four-stage vehicle, two stages being refurbished Minuteman II stages and the other two stages being OSC stages. The Minotaur is 69 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It will be carrying the satellites to an orbit of 250 miles.

To test the satellite, two un-armed Minuteman ICBMs will be launched this summer and fall from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California.

The launch follows hot on the heals of the December 2007 launch of TacSat-2 and NASA’s GeneSat-1 on top of a Minotaur I. More launches are being lined up for the facility, including possible Minotaur V launches, which are capable of sending payloads to the moon. 

Wallops has been launching rockets capable of placing satellites in Earth orbit since 1960, with the launch of the NASA Scout rocket. Nearly 30 ground-based and air-launched orbital missions have been conducted from the NASA-owned launch range.

In addition, during its 61-year history, the facility has launched more than 15,000 rockets including suborbital sounding rockets, meteorological rockets, test rockets, and Department of Defense targets.

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