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Minotaur C Rocket to Blast Off From Vandenberg Air Force Base on Halloween

Orbital ATK booster to carry 10 commercial Earth-imaging satellites for San Francisco-based Planet

An Orbital ATK Minotaur C rocket is prepped for its trip to the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in anticipation of a planned Halloween launch of 10 small satellites. Click to view larger
An Orbital ATK Minotaur C rocket is prepped for its trip to the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in anticipation of a planned Halloween launch of 10 small satellites. (Orbital ATK photo)

A Minotaur C rocket and its 10 Earth-imaging satellites now will shoot for liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Halloween.

Blastoff of the booster built by Orbital ATK from Space Launch Complex 576-E is planned at 2:37 p.m. Oct. 31.

“Our unique geographic location makes Vandenberg an ideal place to launch commercial imaging satellites,” Col. Greg Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, said. “We are excited to partner with Orbital ATK to make this mission a reality.”

On Monday, Orbital ATK officials said on the firm's Twitter page that its rocket had been stacked on the pad and was ready to launch the spacecraft.

The launch site, west of the Vandenberg AFB airfield, is little more than a concrete slab and stand for the rocket since Minotaur uses an austere facility that lacks the huge tower seen at older complexes.

Minotaur C, formerly the Taurus rocket before failures led to a new name, employs components of Orbital’s air-launched Pegasus booster and can carry payloads weighing up to 3,500 pounds.

This mission was delayed from earlier in the month after Orbital ATK requested time to complete further verification and testing chores.

Sites around the base suitable for viewing rocket launches include areas in Vandenberg Village and peak of Harris Grade Road.

Vandenberg officials said the Hawk’s Nest viewing site off Highway 1 won’t be open for the mission due to the remoteness of the launch site.

Riding inside the nosecone of this rocket will be six SkySat Earth-observation satellites to collect images for commercial customers of Planet.

The top of a Minotaur C rocket peeks out above a banner after the booster was raised into vertical position at the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
The top of a Minotaur C rocket peeks out above a banner after the booster was raised into vertical position at the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base.  (Orbital ATK photo)

Also hitching a ride are four Dove CubeSats, with all 10 satellites built in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Spacecraft separation is expected to begin more than 13 minutes after liftoff with the final craft delivered more than 19 minutes after departing Vandenberg. 

“The Dove and SkySat satellites are some of the most capable spacecraft per kilogram ever, capturing medium and high resolution multispectral imagery of Earth at unprecedented scale and frequency,” the company says.

The San Francisco-based Planet, started in 2010 by former NASA employees, boasts having dozens of satellites in orbit and 450 employees.

For previous missions, Planet’s satellites hitched a ride on rockets involving larger primary payloads for launches from international locations.

This time, the SkySat and Dove craft are the rocket’s only customer. 

Planet has customers in 100 countries using the satellite data for assorted industries including agriculture, mapping, insurance and energy. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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