Orbital Science Corp.'s launch vehicle business in Chandler has received its first order to supply a Minotaur rocket to the U.S. Air Force under at $475 million 10-year contract awarded early this year.
The $11 million vehicle will be used to launch a classified payload in 2005, the company said.
The Minotaur is a hybrid vehicle that uses engines from Minuteman II rockets that were decommissioned as a part of arms control agreements for its first and second stages. It uses motors and guidance and control systems from Oribital's Pegasus XL commercial rockets for the third and fourth stages. With the latest order, the Minotaur has four scheduled launches in the next two years. Two launches of Air Force satellites are scheduled for next year under a previous contract, and a launch of a Taiwan weather satellite is scheduled for 2005.
Orbital has carried out two Minotaur launches, both in 2000, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Under the 10-year program, Orbital could supply up to 41 launch vehicles to the Air Force. Under a separate program, Orbital is providing rockets to serve as targets and interceptor boosters for the U.S. missile defense program. Orbital employs about 800 people at its Chandler plant, where the company performs design and engineering work on Taurus, Minotaur and Pegasus rockets. Another 100 are based at Vandenberg.