Minimize ORS-3 / STPSat-3

ORS-3 Mission / STPSat-3 (Space Test Program Satellite-3)

The ORS (Operationally Responsive Space) Office, a DoD program conceived to demonstrate space systems on leaner budgets and rapid schedules, is sponsoring the ORS-3 (Operationally Responsive Space) mission, which is planned to launch in 2013 from MARS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport), located at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility,Wallops Island, VA.

The objectives of the ORS-3 mission are: 1) 2)

1) Demonstrate an AFSS (Autonomous Flight Safety System) which will have the most enduring impact on how flight safety is achieved for all launch systems. The AFSS is the primary goal of the flight testing space-based rocket tracking technology and an autonomous termination system smart enough to destroy the rocket if it flies off course.

The Air Force is migrating toward using GPS receivers on rockets to avoid the overhead costs of legacy radar trackers. The next step will be for launch vehicles to track themselves, comparing real-time GPS positions to predicted values, and issuing a command to destroy itself if it veers too far from its planned flight path. 3) 4) 5)

2) Demonstrate alternative execution methods for launch services that reduces overall launch costs using an FAA license.

3) Demonstrate new hardware that allows small launch vehicle to fly multiple CubeSats in a manner that is benign to the primary mission.

The ORS-3 mission is focused on breaking the constraining paradigms and procedures associated with the acquisition, coordination, range logistics, mission safety, technical management, and overall execution of an existing launch capability. 6)

The launch will feature a primary payload, the STPSat-3 (Space Test Program Satellite-3) of the US Air Force SMC (Space and Missile Systems Center), and 27 additional experiments comprised of free-flying systems and non-separating components. ORS-3 will employ CubeSat wafers, which enable secondary payloads to take advantage of excess lift capacity unavailable to the primary trial.



STPSat-3 is a microsatellite mission of the USAF-SMC. The STPSat series of satellites, built by BATC (Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation), successfully proves the concept of a SIV (Standard Interface Vehicle) for the USAF- SMC/SD (Space and Missile Systems Center, Space Development & Test Directorate (SMC/SD).

The STPSat-3 spacecraft is able to support a variety of experimental and risk reduction payloads at different low-Earth orbits and is compatible with multiple launch vehicles by utilizing the flight-proven BCP-100 (Ball Configurable Platform 100) standard interface bus.

The STP-SIV characteristics:

• The spacecraft is ~610 mm x 710 mm x 710 mm (high) in size with a mass < 110 kg

• Accommodates up to four separate instruments

• Operates in any low earth orbit from 400 and 850 km altitude

• Remains easily adaptable for future missions – no design changes necessary for payloads that conform to the standard interface

• Maintains flexibility to launch on a large variety of vehicles, including the EELV Secondary Payload Adapter.

STPSat-3, the second STP-SIV spacecraft was built in only 47 days. Construction of the STPSat-3 platform was completed before the final payloads had been selected, demonstrating the flexibility of the hardware.


Figure 1: Photo of the STPSat-3 spacecraft at BATC (image credit: BATC)



Figure 2: Photo of the STPSat-3 spacecraft at integration (image credit: BATC)

On Sept. 6, 2013, the STPSat-3 arrived at Wallops Flight Facility located on Wallops Island, Virginia. 7)


Launch: STPSat-3 was launched on November 20, 2013 (01:15 :00 UTC) from the MARS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport) on Wallops Island, VA on a Minotaur-1 vehicle of OSC (Orbital Sciences Corporation). The launch was part of the ORS-3 (Operationally Responsive Space-3) enabler launch mission. 8) 9) 10)

ORS-3 is ushering in launch and range processes of the future. The ORS-3 mission will demonstrate and validate a new launch vehicle flight safety architecture of the future through the AFSS (Autonomous Flight Safety System) payload, which uses launch vehicle orbital targeting and range safety planning processes to protect public safety from an errant launch vehicle during flight. 11) The outcome of this test is of great interest to the military as well as to NASA. The launch also will be part of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) certification process for the Minotaur rocket. The FAA has licensing authority over American commercial rockets.

Orbit: Near-circular orbit, altitude = 500 km, inclination = 40.5º.

Secondary Payloads: The secondary technology payloads on this flight consist of 26 experiments comprised of free-flying systems and non-separating components (2 experiments). ORS-3 will employ CubeSat wafer adapters, which enable secondary payloads to take advantage of excess lift capacity unavailable to the primary trial. 12) 13)

NASA's LSP (Launch Services Program) ELaNa-4 (Educational Launch of Nanosatellite-4) will launch eight more educational CubeSat missions. The ELaNa-4 CubeSats were originally manifest on the Falcon-9 CRS-2 flight. When NASA received word that the P-PODs on CRS-2 needed to be de-manifested, LSP immediately started looking for other opportunities to launch this complement of CubeSats as soon as possible. 14)


ORS-3 mission sponsor

Spacecraft provider

No of CubeSat Units

ORS-1, ORSES (ORS Enabler Satellite)

ORS (US Army)

Miltec Corporation, Huntsville, AL


ORS-2, ORS Tech 1

ORS Office

JHU/APL, Laurel, MD


ORS-3, ORS Tech 2

ORS Office




SOCOM (Special Operations Command)

LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory)

1 x 3




1 x 3




1 x 3




1 x 3


STP (Space Test Program)

SMC/XR USAF, Boeing Co.




SMC/XR, USAF, Boeing Co.




NSF (National Science Foundation)



NRO (National Reconnaissance Office)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory


Black Knight-1


US Military Academy, West Point, NY




US Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD




Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA




University of Hawaii, Manoa, HI




St Louis University, St. Louis, MO




University of Alabama, Huntsville


SPA-1 Trailblazer


COSMIAC, University of New Mexico


Vermont Lunar CubeSat


Vermont Technical College, Burlington, VT




University of Florida, Gainsville, FL




University of Louisiana, Lafayette, LA




Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA




Kentucky Space, University of Kentucky




NASA/ARC, Moffett Field, CA


TJ3Sat (CubeSat)


Thomas Jefferson High School, Alexandria, VA


Table 1: ORS-3 manifested CubeSats & Experiments (Ref. 12)


Figure 3: NASA selected 10 educational institutions to design and build CubeSats for ELaNa IV. (image credit: NASA) 15) 16) 17)

ORS and CubeStack: 18)

• ORS (Operationally Responsive Space) partnered with NASA/ARC and AFRL to develop & produce the CubeStack

• Multi CubeSat adapter provides “Low Maintenance” tertiary canisterized ride capability

• ORS-3 Mission: Will fly 2 CubeStacks in November 2013. This represents the largest multi-mission launch using a Minotaur I launch vehicle (26 free flyers, 2 experiments).

The CubeStack adapter structure is a design by LoadPath LLC of Albuquerque, NM, and of Moog CSA Engineering, Mountain View, CA. 19) 20)

The two companies, under contract to the AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) Space Vehicles Directorate, developed a multi-payload adapter for CubeSats in support of government and commercial missions. The CubeStack adapter is a 10 inch (25 cm) tall “wafer” similar to the NLAS (NanoSat Launch Adapter System) adapter developed at NASA Ames. The wafer mounts between the rocket upper stage and its primary payload and accommodates eight 3U dispensers, e.g. P-PODs, four 6U CubeSat dispensers, or other combinations of 3U and 6U dispensers. The modular CubeStack wafer features both 98.5 cm Ø and 61 cm Ø primary-spacecraft interfaces and is sized for several launch vehicles including Athena, Minotaur I, Taurus, Pegasus and Falcon 1. 21)


Figure 4: Illustration of the CubeStack, (consisting of wafers) configuration (image credit: ORS, Ref. 12)

Actually, components from two systems - namely Cubestack (of AFRL) and NLAS (Nanosatellite Launch Adapter System) of NASA/Ames - were used in the successful deployment of the Cubesats from the Nov. 20, 2013 launch on Minotaur-1. From a perspective of NLAS hardware, that launch included: 22)

• 2 NLAS Sequencers and 4 NLAS Dispensers

• The NLAS Sequencers were responsible for commanding the deployment of 28 CubeSats (48U) from 4 NLAS Dispensers and 8 Cal Poly P-PODs.

NASA/Ames developed the NLAS system in coordination with the AFRL’s Space Vehicle Directorate. Ames designed and engineered the NLAS system for broad use, and has shared the design data of NLAS with AFRL. - The launch adapters (or CubeStack adapter structures) that were used for this Minotaur-1 mission were procured by the AFRL from LoadPath LLC of Albuquerque, NM, and of Moog CSA Engineering, Mountain View, CA


Figure 5: Photo of the ORS-3 launch configuration with STPSat-3 on top and the integrated payload stack at the bottom (image credit: AFRL)



Mission status:

• Feb. 20, 2014: The ORS-3 launch vehicle also carried an AFSS (Autonomous Flight Safety System) unit that integrated GPS, an inertial measurement unit and Wallops-developed algorithms to track the rocket's path as it lifted off the gantry and streaked across the horizon. 23)

- Developed by ATK (Alliant Techsystems Inc.) of Plymouth, MN, the shoe box-size unit worked in shadow mode during its first certification test. As part of that test, range officers programmed the unit to respond to a simulated signal indicating that the rocket had gone off course and to send a self-destruct or detonate command at the appropriate time. - Preliminary data indicate that the unit sent the simulated termination command at the right time.

- Initial testing of AFSS began more than three years ago. However, in those flight demonstrations the team used a system cobbled together with commercial, off-the-shelf components married to the Wallops-developed software. The test during the ORS-3 launch, however, employed the actual unit that ATK built under contract.

- As a result of the unit's successful function test, the AFSS team plans to execute another test during a rocket launch of the ORS-4 mission from the PMRF (Pacific Missile Range Facility) in Kauai, Hawaii, in the fall of 2014. Once the team finishes the certification, it believes AFSS will become fully operational in a couple years.

• January 09, 2014: BATC announced it has turned over control of the recently launched STPSat-3 mission to the U.S. Air Force. 24)

• The SPTSat-3 spacecraft was deployed ~12 minutes after lift-off at an altitude of about 500 km. The Minotaur’s upper stage then executed a pre-planned collision avoidance maneuver before starting deployment of 28 CubeSats sponsored by the ORS office, the U.S. Air Force SMC's (Space and Missile Systems Center) Space Test Program, and NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program (Ref. 8).



Sensor complement: (iMESA-R, J-CORE, SSU, SWATS, TCTE)

BATC announced in January 2013 that it had successfully integrated the five payloads and a spacecraft de-orbit module onto STPSat-3. 25)

iMESA-R (Integrated Miniaturized Electrostatic Analyzer Reflight):

The instrument is a USAFA (U. S. Air Force Academy) mission designed to measure plasma densities and energies.

J-CORE (Joint Component Research):

J-CORE is a space phenomenology mission sponsored by AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory ) /EO Countermeasures Technology Branch (RYMW) & SWMDC (Army Space and Missile Defense Command).

SSU (Strip Sensor Unit):

SSU is an AFRL Directed Energy (RD) experiment to provide risk reduction through on-orbit testing and operation of a sensor assembly.

SWATS (Small Wind and Temperature Spectrometer)

SWATS is a NRL (Naval Research Laboratory) mission to provide in-situ measurements of the neutral and plasma environment to characterize the Earth’s ionosphere and thermosphere.

TCTE (TSI Calibration Transfer Experiment):

TCTE is a NASA/NOAA mission to collect high accuracy, high precision measurements of Total Solar Irradiance to monitor changes in solar irradiance incident at the top the Earth’s atmosphere with TCTE instrument provided by LASP (Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics) at the University of Colorado, originally built as a flight-spare instrument, TIM (Total Solar Irradiance), for the SORCE (Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment) mission.

TCTE is not a substitute for JPSS-FF-1 (Joint Polar Satellite System-Free Flyer- 1) TSIS, since TCTE will not fulfill the Level 1 Climate Data Record for TSI (Total Solar Irradiance) because it is less accurate and is not operated continuously, but it does mitigate a gap until TSIS gets on-orbit. 26) 27) 28)

In order to understand the causes of climate change, TCTE will monitor fluctuations in total solar irradiance. Continuation of solar irradiance measurements will help maintain accuracy in this critical long-term data record by overlapping with existing (SORCE/TIM) and planned future (JPSS/TSIS/TIM) instruments.

TIM measures the total light coming from the Sun at all wavelengths. It will be integrated in the TCTE payload.


Figure 6: Illustration of the TIM instrument (image credit: LASP)

1) “ORS -Operationally Responsive Space, The Enabler Mission,” ORS-3, Aug. 2012, URL:

2) “ORS Office organizing three new programs,” Air Force Materiel Command, Aug. 30, 2012, URL:

3) ATK's Autonomous Flight Safety Assembly Makes First Flight,” PR Newswire, Nov. 19, 2013, URL:

4) Stephen Clark, “Minotaur rocket booked for space-based range demo,” Spaceflight Now, April 4, 2012, URL:

5) Edmund Burke, Edwin Rutkowski, “Vehicle Based Independent Tracking System (VBITS): A Small, Modular, Avionics Suite for Responsive Launch Vehicle and Satellite Applications,” 6th Responsive Space Conference, April 28–May 1, 2008, Los Angeles, CA, URL:

6) Thomas M. Davis, Mitchell Elson, Aaron Q. Rogers, “Enablers for Operationally Responsive Space,” Proceedings of the 9th IAA Symposium on Small Satellites for Earth Observation, Berlin, Germany, April 8-12, 2013, paper: IAA-B9-1001

7) “STPSat-3 Built by Ball Aerospace Arrives at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia,” BATC News Release, URL:

8) “Orbital Successfully Launches Minotaur I Rocket Supporting ORS-3 Mission for the U.S. Air Force,” Orbital, Nov. 19, 2013, URL:

9) Patrick Blau, “Minotaur I successfully launches STPSat-3 & record load of 28 CubeSats,” Spaceflight 101, Nov. 20, 2013, URL:

10) Roz Brown, “Ball Aerospace's STPSat-3 to Fly Solar TIM Instrument for NOAA,” BATC, July 19, 2012, URL:

11) Michael P. Kleiman, “ORS Office organizing three new programs,” AFMC (Air Force Materiel Command), Aug. 30, 2012, URL:

12) Peter Wegner, “ORS Program Status,” Reinventing Space Conference, El Segundo, CA, USA, May 7-10, 2012, URL:

13) Joe Maly, “ESPA CubeSat Accommodations and Qualification of 6U Mount (SUM),” 10th Annual CubeSat Developer’s Workshop, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA, April 24-25, 2013, URL:

14) Garrett Lee Skrobot, Roland Coelho, “ELaNa – Educational Launch of Nanosatellite Providing Routine RideShare Opportunities,” Proceedings of the 26th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan, Utah, USA, August 13-16, 2012, paper: SSC12-V-5

15) “NASA Helps Launch Student-Built Satellites and latest PhoneSat as Part of CubeSat Launch Initiative,” NASA, Nov. 18, 2013, URL:

16) “CubeSat ELaNa IV Launch on ORS-3,” NASA fact sheet, Nov. 2013, URL:

17) Joshua Buck, “NASA Helps Launch Student-Built Satellites as Part of CubeSat Launch Initiative,” NASA, Release 13-343, Nov. 20, 2013, URL:

18) “CubeStack: CubeSat Space Access,” 9th Annual Spring CubeSat Developers’ Workshop, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA, April 18-20, 2012, URL:

19) Joe Maly, “6U Mount for CubeSats on ESPA,” CubeSat 9th Annual Summer Workshop, Logan UT, USA, August 11-12, 2012, URL:

20) “CubeStack: CubeSat Space Access,” 9th Annual CubeSat Developers’ Workshop, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, 19 April 2012, URL:

21) Gregory E Sanford, Kenneth J Brunetto, Joseph R Maly, James C Goodding, Hans-Peter Dumm, “CubeStack Wafer Adapter for CubeSats on Small Launch Vehicles,” Proceedings of the 25th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan, UT, USA, Aug. 8-11, 2011, paper: SSC11-II-7, URL:

22) Information provided by Joshua M. Buck of NASA/HQ, Washington D.C.

23) Lori Keesey, “'Mission of Firsts' Showcased New Range-Safety Technology at NASA Wallops,”NASA News, Feb. 20, 2014, URL:

24) Mike Gruss, “U.S. Air Force Takes Control of STPSat-3,” Space News, Jan. 09, 2014, URL:

25) “Ball Aerospace Integrates Final Payload for STPSat-3,” BATC News Releases, Jan. 18, 2013, URL:

26) Preston M. Burch, “TCTE / STP3-Sat Mission,” July 31, 2012, URL:

27) “Solar instrument bridges gap left by Glory’s demise,” LASP Press Release, July 18, 2012, URL:

28) “Quick Facts: Total Solar Irradiance Calibration Transfer Experiment (TCTE),” LASP, 2013, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates.