TacSat-3 Finally Flies

The U.S. Air Force used an Orbital Sciences Corp. Minotaur 1 launch vehicle to orbit its TacSat-3 research spacecraft and a pair of piggyback NASA payloads, after weather and technical delays kept the mission stuck on the ground at Wallops Flight Facility for two weeks.

Liftoff from the site on Virginia’s Eastern Shore came at 7:55 p.m. EDT May 19, and the four-stage launch vehicle performed as expected.

The $80 million satellite carries an experimental target identification and battle damage assessment sensor and a sea-buoy data-retrieval experiment. It also will flight-validate a plug-and-play avionics package.

Flying as secondary payloads for NASA are a CubeSat Technology Demonstration – three cube-shaped satellites measuring only four inches on a side that were developed by universities and industry – and the agency’s PharmaSat test bed.

Designed to help advance understanding of how microbes become more drug-resistant in microgravity, PharmaSat will run a 96-hour experiment to study the effects of antifungal agents on yeast growth.

The launch was delayed on May 7 for weather, and again on May 8 for a last-minute anomaly with the flight termination system that would have destroyed the four-stage solid-fuel Minotaur had it gone astray after liftoff.

TacSat-3 launch photo: Orbital Sciences Corp.