Lockheed's Athena re-enters small payload market

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Lockheed Martin and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) have teamed up to enter the small launcher market. Services will be available from 2012 using a new version of the all-solid rocket motor Athena vehicle.

With a payload capability of 1,712kg (3,775lb) to low Earth orbit, the two versions of Athena, Ic and IIc, will face competition. US rivals include Orbital Sciences' Minotaur and Space Exploration Technologies' Falcon 1e, while European competitors include the Russian Cosmos International Cosmos and Paris-based Arianespace's Vega, which should be commercially operational next year.

The two C versions of the retired Athena I and Athena II rockets will use new electronics and ATK's Castor 30 solid rocket motor as an upper stage. Like the original Athenas, the C versions will use ATK's Castor 120 motor for the first stage.

The Athena I is a two-stage vehicle and the II has three stages. An Athena II launched NASA's Lunar Prospector to the Moon in 1998 and in total the two types flew seven times from 1995.

ATK aerospace systems' strategic and commercial systems vice-president and general manager Scott Lehr says: "There is a growing need for responsive launch capabilities to serve the Department of Defense, NASA and other customers."

All-solid rocket motor launchers are seen as more responsive, as they avoid the lead times and handling issues associated with liquid propellants.

The Athenas can be launched from Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg AFB in California and NASA's Wallops Mid-Atlantic regional spaceport in Virginia.

Lockheed will provide mission management, payload integration, and launch operations and ATK oversees propulsion, launch vehicle structures, booster integration and site operations.