Press Release

Orbital Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Pegasus Rocket

By SpaceRef Editor
April 4, 2000
Filed under

Innovative, Affordable Air-Launched Rocket Helped to Usher In ‘New Space Age’ of Commercial Space Ventures –

– Company’s First $1 Billion Product Has Completed 28 Launches Since 1990, Carrying 69 Satellites into Orbit

Ten years ago this week — on
April 5, 1990 — a new era in the commercial space industry took flight when
Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Pegasus® rocket was launched for
the first time from beneath a NASA B-52 carrier aircraft in a mission that
originated from Dryden Flight Research Center in California.
orbital missions and ten years later, Pegasus has become one of the world’s
most recognizable symbols of the “New Space Age,” a time when commercial
satellite operators, not government agencies, have become the driving force
behind the global space industry.
In the decade since its maiden flight,
Pegasus has also become the world’s standard for affordable and reliable small
launch vehicles.
In the last three years, Pegasus has carried out 14
consecutive successful missions, while its overall mission success record is
25 out of 28 missions.
It also has a full launch manifest for the future,
with 12 launches carrying 27 payloads scheduled over the next two years alone.

Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer,
said, “The Pegasus program has played an enormous role in our company’s
development from a fledgling commercial space enterprise in the late 1980’s
into one of the largest and most capable space technology and satellite
services companies in the world today.
For example, the low-cost satellite
network of our ORBCOMM affiliate is a direct by-product of the Pegasus
launcher technology.
We custom-designed the lightweight, disk-shaped ORBCOMM
satellites for the Pegasus rocket so that we could launch as many as eight
spacecraft aboard one relatively low-cost rocket.
No other space launch
vehicle in the world could have deployed ORBCOMM’s 35 in-orbit satellites as
cost effectively and reliably as Pegasus.”

Mr. Thompson continued his remarks, adding, “Since our first Pegasus
contract in 1988, Orbital has received orders totaling over $1 billion for
more than 50 Pegasus rockets from 12 customers in the United States and
On this important tenth anniversary of its first flight, I want to
thank all the people, at Orbital and our suppliers, who worked on the Pegasus
program over the years for making it such a huge technical and business
I applaud their remarkable achievements over the past decade.”

The Pegasus launch vehicle is used by commercial, government and
international customers to launch small satellites, weighing up to 1,000
pounds, into low-Earth orbit.
Its patented air-launch method has enabled
Orbital to conduct operations from five separate launch sites, including four
in the United States and one in Europe, the first time a space launch vehicle
has provided such operational flexibility.
Pegasus is carried aloft by the
company-owned L-1011 “Stargazer” aircraft to an altitude of approximately
40,000 feet over open ocean areas, is released and then free-falls in a
horizontal position for five seconds before igniting its first stage rocket
motor to begin its ascent into orbit.

Orbital has also adapted Pegasus-proven technology to a family of
commercial and government advanced-technology launch vehicles.
ground-launched Taurus® rocket combines a commercial or government-supplied
first stage with Pegasus-derived upper stages to create a reliable commercial
launch vehicle that today boasts a perfect five-for-five mission success
record, including the delivery of nine satellites into orbit.
Orbital is also
under contract with the U.S. Air Force to combine deactivated Minuteman II
rocket motors with Pegasus upper stages to produce the four-stage
Orbital/Suborbital Program Space Launch Vehicle (OSP SLV), sometimes referred
to as the Minotaur, which is used exclusively to launch U.S. Government
The inaugural flight of the OSP SLV, which occurred on January
26, 2000, resulted in the successful deployment of 11 small satellites.

Orbital’s Pegasus-based technology and air-launch operational methods are
also being applied to develop advanced vehicles for NASA.
Orbital is building
a set of modified Pegasus vehicles for NASA’s X-43 program, also known as
These Pegasus-derived, air-launched rockets will be used to
accelerate small scramjet-powered aircraft to test the hypersonic propulsion
and flight characteristics of future, very-high-speed transport and military
Finally, Orbital is leading NASA’s X-34 reusable launch vehicle
technology demonstration program.
Orbital has designed, built and is now
testing the first of three X-34 vehicles that the company will produce and
For the X-34 program, Orbital is employing the air-launch concept
and has specially modified the company’s L-1011 carrier aircraft used for
Pegasus missions to accommodate X-34 flights.

Orbital is one of the largest space technology and satellite services
companies in the world, with 1999 revenues of nearly $900 million.
company, which is headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, employs over 5,200 people
at its major facilities in the United States, Canada and several overseas
locations. Orbital is the world’s leading manufacturer of low-cost space
systems and products, including satellites, launch vehicles, electronics and
sensors, satellite ground systems and software, and satellite-based navigation
and communications products.
Through its ORBCOMM and ORBIMAGE affiliates and
ORBNAV subsidiary, Orbital is also a pioneering operator of satellite-based
networks that provide data communications, high-resolution imagery and
automotive information services to customers all around the world.

SpaceRef staff editor.