Orbital wins USAF EAGLE spacecraft development contract

Orbital Sciences has been awarded a contract for the development of an experimental manoeuvrable spacecraft platform as part of the US Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL) evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) secondary adapter (ESPA) augmented geostationary laboratory experiment (EAGLE) programme.

Awarded by the AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate, Orbital will manufacture an EAGLE spacecraft platform, which will be capable of hosting both multiple payloads and operating in low- and geosynchronous orbit, under the $32m contract.

The EAGLE programme aims to develop an ESPA-based spacecraft bus along with a suite of payload experiments to support the launch and maintenance of small payloads in geostationary orbit.

Designed to be launch from any EELV variant, the platform will feature a six-port standard ESPA ring to help enhance its launch access to geosynchronous orbit, and also to serve as a cost-effective modular platform for geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) or payload hosting for low-orbit missions.

Orbital senior vice president and Advanced Programs deputy general manager Jean Floyd said the AFRL had an initial requirement for four payloads, but the company is offering space for hosting of six payloads using an innovative design that enabled packaging of all required equipment inside the ESPA ring, thereby opening two additional ports.

''By leveraging our flight-tested and reliable components, we delivered a system design that will provide our customer with exceptional value by exceeding their initial requirements,'' Floyd added.

The spacecraft is also expected to carry significant amount of propellant, based on the selected launch vehicle and orbit manoeuvrability requirements.

Orbital is hoping its EAGLE platform to host up to six payloads for a duration of at least one year in geosynchronous orbit.

Work under the five-year contract has already started in the third quarter of 2012.