Lockheed Martin has declared Kodiak, Alaska, to be the preferred west coast launch site for the Athena III launch vehicle. The Athena III, a heavier version of the Athena I and II, is in its design phase, with a first flight planned in late 2014.

The launch site at Kodiak, which is configured to launch earlier models of the Athena, is a prominent west coast launch site for high-inclination and polar orbits. Most Athena vehicles have launched from Vandenberg AFB, the main west coast launch site for medium and heavy rockets, including Lockheed/Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA), but the launch site is increasingly crowded and launch windows increasingly restricted due to the high launch volume.

The Athena III design, powered by the ATK Castor 120 lower stage and Castor 30 upper stage solid fuel rockets, is in design phase. "We've started the initial design," said Lockheed programme manager Al Simpson, "and we're evaluating the business case as we go forward." The company declined to provide additional details, other than to say that negotiations with prospective clients are ongoing. The new rocket will be capable of launching 4,600kg (10,100lb) into low earth orbit from Kodiak.

Previous Athena models successfully launched five times and suffered two additional launch failures, according to the Flightglobal Ascend database. The final flight successfully lofted four small satellites into orbit in 2001.

 Athena 3

 ©Lockheed Martin

Lockheed ended the Athena programme citing a dearth of small payloads seeking launch. Cheaper competition from Russia, Ukraine and China made the business case more difficult

"In 2010 we introduced the Athena 1 and 2 programme back into the marketplace because of the demand for small responsive space lift growing inside of the US govt community," said Simpson. "Lockheed is positioning to introduce the Athena III into the marketplace, which provides a greater lift capacity."

"The real question for us as we move forward is assessing the marketplace, assessing those competitive bids," he added.

Source: Flight International