Retired Athena Rockets to be Resurrected for New Missions
An Athena 1 rocket blasts off from the Kodiak Space Launch Complex in Alaska on Sept. 29, 2001 carrying satellites for NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
Credit: NASA TV

WASHINGTON - Lockheed Martin and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) will attempt to resurrect the long-dormant Athena series of small-satellite launchers under an arrangement announced by the companies Thursday.

The upgraded Athena 1c and Athena 2c rockets will feature the same Castor 120 solid rocket motors as their predecessors, but use the newly developed Castor 30 motor for their upper stage, the companies said in a written announcement. The original Athena vehicles used the Orbus 21D motor built by the former Chemical Systems Division of United Technologies Corp.

The new Athena vehicles will be used to launch payloads weighing up to 3,775 pounds (1,712 kg) into low Earth orbit and could be available for launches starting in 2012, ATK and Lockheed officials said in a statement.

The rockets can be launched from several spaceports in the United States, including the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the Wallops Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island in Virginia.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver developed the original Athena 1 and Athena 2 rockets in the 1990s to launch small payloads for government and commercial customers. However, the market did not materialize as expected and the company stopped offering the vehicles in the early part of the next decade.

The Athena rockets flew seven times, with two failures. Among the successes was the December 1998 launch of NASA?s Lunar Prospector mission aboard the three-stage Athena 2 rocket.  

ATK Space Systems of Magna, Utah, will be responsible for providing the motors for the upgraded Athena vehicles, along with other structures, integration and support. The solid-fueled Castor 30 was developed for Orbital Sciences Corp.?s planned Taurus 2 medium-class rocket and has been tested on the ground, the press release said. The Castor 120 has been used on Dulles, Va.-based Orbital?s Taurus 1 rocket in addition to the original Athena line.

Lockheed Martin will be responsible for mission management, payload integration and launch operations of the Athena vehicles, the company said in an announcement.

Athena?s target market is currently served by Orbital with its Pegasus, Taurus 1 and Minotaur family of vehicles, and by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of Hawthorne, Calif., with its Falcon 1E rocket.

?The new Athena family will fill an industry need for lift capability in this payload range,? Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager of strategic and commercial systems at ATK Aerospace Systems, said in a statement.