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US Air Force funds small satellite platform

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has awarded $34 million to Orbital Sciences to develop ESPA Augmented Geostationary Laboratory Equipment (Eagle), a system for boosting to and keeping small payloads functioning at geostationary orbit.

The Eagle spacecraft platform is based around the evolved expendable launch vehicle's secondary payload adaptor (ESPA), which is essentially a ring to carry and deploy small rideshare satellites from the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV or Atlas V.

Eagle, in contrast, will help to propel satellites or experiments to geosynchronous orbit from a transfer orbit, and keep the payloads attached and in correct position for up to a year. The platform can serve the same function in low Earth orbit (LEO), to where most small payloads have been launched.

Small satellites often hitch rides into orbit using spare capacity on launch vehicles dedicated to larger missions. Recent technological advances, miniaturization of electronics and standardization of small satellite buses have led to dramatic growth in the smallsat launch market.

Orbital Sciences was unable to respond to immediate questions.

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