Thursday, March 25, 2010

New-Generation Athena Rockets Coming To Cape Canaveral

Two American aerospace giants are teaming up to bring a new rocket to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a move that could create 100 jobs in two stages.

Lockheed Martin and Alliant Techsystems aim to launch new-generation Athena rockets from Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral.

Officials with both companies said the two- and three-stage versions of the rocket are based on the flight-proven Athena I and Athena II launch vehicles, which have tallied seven missions. The new Athena Ic and IIc rockets employ a new Castor 30 upper stage motor and upgrades to electronics systems.

“The Athena launch vehicle family offers low-risk, reliable launch services at an affordable price,” John Karas, a vice president and general manager with Lockheed Martin, said in a statement.

The rockets will begin launching in 2012.

A refurbishment project at Launch Complex 46 will employ around 75 people for more than a year, officials said.

A core launch operations team of about 20 at the Cape will surge to about 50 during launch campaigns.

Officials expect to fly at least two missions per year from Launch Complex 46, which the U.S. Navy used to test Trident fleet ballistic missiles.

An Athena rocket launched NASA’s Lunar Prospector from complex 46 in 1998 – the only commercially developed rocket ever to launch a lunar mission.

The new-generation rockets will be offered up to NASA, the Department of Defense and others for payloads weighing up to 3,775 pounds.

"The new Athena family will fill an industry need for lift capability in this payload range," said Scott Lehr, a vice president and general manager with ATK. "There is a growing need for responsive launch capabilities to serve the Department of Defense, NASA and other customer requirements."

The Athena Ic and IIc rockets also can be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska and NASA-Wallops Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.

The variability in launch sites will provide customers with the ability to launch payloads into a wide range of orbits.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the image of an Athena rocket blasting off from Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with NASA's Lunar Prospector onboard. The launch took place in January 1998.

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