|Space Launch Report: ATHENA|
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Athena 2 (LM-004) used to launch Lunar Prospector
Athena was series of solid-motor based orbital launch vehicles offered by Lockheed Martin. The vehicle was originally developed by Lockheed Corporation in 1993, when it was called the "Lockheed Launch Vehicle" (LLV). Only the first unsuccessful launch in 1995 was conducted under the LLV name, as an LLV-1 variant.
Lockheed merged with Martin Marietta shortly after that first flight. For a time the rocket family was known as the "Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle" (LMLV), but it was given the Athena name soon after it returned to flight in 1997. Seven LLV/LMLV/Athena launch vehicles flew before the family was retired after 2001.
On March 25, 2010, Lockheed Martin announced plans to return a modified Athena to service using a new upper stage. After several years, however, the company gave up. On March 8, 2017 Steve Skladanek, president of Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services, announced that the company had stopped marketing Athena and had no active plans to conduct a launch.
Two Athena versions were originally
flown. Athena 1 used a Thiokol (later ATK) Castor 120 first stage and a United
Technologies Chemical Systems Division Orbus 21D second stage. Castor 120 was a
commercial solid motor derived from the Peacekeeper first stage program. The Orbus
21D stage was derived from an Inertial Upper Stage solid motor flown atop Shuttle, Titan
34D, and Titan 4. Athena 2 used Castor 120 both as a first and second stage, with
Orbus 21D as a third stage. An original Lockheed designed Athena 3 was designed, but
never flown. It would have added two to six Castor 4A strap-on motors to an Athena 2
first stage, creating a rocket able to lift 1.8 to 3.6 tonnes to LEO.
Both Athena types could be equipped with an optional monopropellant Orbit Adjust Module (OAM) origionally developed by Primex Technologies (acquired by General Dynamics in 2001). OAM used low-thrust pressure-fed monomethylhydrazine (MMH) thrusters to fine-tune or raise orbits, to provide roll control during solid motor burns, and to provide three-axis control during coast periods.
The first two launches took place from
Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 6, the mothballed, never-used Space Shuttle launch
facility that itself had originally been constructed for the never-flown U.S. Air Force
Titan 3M Manned Orbiting Laboratory program. The first launch, on August 15, 1995,
failed due to loss of flight control, causing a range safety destruct command to be issued
160 seconds into the flight. Multiple failures plagued the flight. A cable
burned through near the end of the first stage burn, causing loss of first stage thrust
vector control for a few moments. Still, the rocket could have recovered from that
problem during the second stage burn if the inertial navigation system had not failed.
Arcing due to the presence of ionized particles at high altitude created false
readings, causing the rocket to steer in the wrong direction. It turned out that the
INS unit had originally been designed for use on helicopters and was not meant for use in
the near-vacuum of space.
The second launch, of an LMLV-1 on August 22, 1997, successfully orbited NASA's Lewis satellite. Unfortunately, Lewis failed only three days after reaching its initial near-polar orbit. The dead spacecraft reentered a few days after launch since it was unable to maneuver to its intended, higher altitude sun synchronous operating orbit.
The Athena team moved to Cape Canaveral's new Space Launch Complex 46 for the rocket's next two launches. On January 7, 1998 the first Athena-2 orbited NASA's Lunar Prospector. The rocket, topped by an OAM fourth stage, boosted a 1,523 kg payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). The payload mass mostly consisted of a Star 37FM solid motor that served as a trans-lunar injection (TLI) stage for the spin-stabilized spacecraft. Five days after launch, Lunar Prospector used its on-board monopropellant system to maneuver itself into lunar orbit for a magnetic field mapping mission.
One year later, an Athena 1 launched
ROCSAT 1, Taiwan's first satellite, into a 588 x 601 km x 35 deg orbit from SLC 46.
The rocket's OAM performed two burns to insert the 400 kg satellite into its orbit.
It would be the last launch from the Spaceport Florida pad for the original Athena
1999 also saw two Athena 2 launches from Vandenberg SLV 6. Both carried Lockheed Martin-built 726 kg Ikonos commercial imaging satellites. The first on April 27 failed to reach orbit due to a payload fairing separation failure. The second, on September 24, succeeded. Ikonos was lifted by Athena's OAM stage toward its final 678 km sun synchronous orbit. Commentators noted that the latter launch was the first fully successful mission flown from SLC 6 after billions of dollars had been spent on the site over more than two decades.
Two more years would pass before the
next launch, of an Athena 1 that orbited several microsatellites from a new site on Kodiak
Island, Alaska. The rocket's OAM stage performed multiple burns to insert satellites
into high and low orbits. Having consumed its inventory of solid motors, Lockheed
Martin quietly shelved Athena after the flight.
On March 25, 2010 Lockheed Martin and ATK announced plans to restore Athena to service in the form of modified Athena 1c and Athena 2c rockets. Both would use the same Castor 120 solid rocket motors, but would replace the retired Orbus 21D with ATK's new Castor 30 solid motor. At the time, Athena 1c and 2c were expected to be available beginning in 2012. Athena 2c was expected to be able to lift up to 1,712 kilograms into low Earth orbit (LEO).
In March, 2012, Lockheed Martin
announced that it had selected Alaskas Kodiak Launch Complex (KLC) as its dedicated
West Coast launch facility for its renewed Athena program. Alaska Aerospace
Corporation planned to update Kodiak facilities, including the possible construction of a
brand new mediumlift launch pad to support a new Athena 3. Lockheed Martin was
evaluating "the business case" for Athena 3, which at the time was expected to
be capable of launching satellites weighing 4,600 kg into polar orbits from Kodiak or
5,900 kg into lower inclination orbits from an East Coast pad.
In early September, 2013, Lockheed Martin revealed new plans for an Athena 2cS variant that would add two to six Orion 50SXLG strap on motors to the Castor 120 first stage. Athena 2cS-6, the most powerful version, would more than double the capabilities of Athena 2c. The design was similar to, but more capable than, the 1993 original never-flown "Athena 3"
Another SRB-based "Athena 3" design was contemplated. It was originally proposed in 2007 for the losing Planetspace Commercial Orbital Transporatation Service contract entry. Lockheed Martin continued to study the design as of late 2013.
At some point, Lockheed Martin decided to once again shelve Athena. The announcement did not come until Steve Skladanek, president of Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services, mentioned during a March 8, 2017 conference that the company was no longer marketing Athena and that it had no plans to fly the rocket.
A possible contributing factor was the 2015 merger of Orbital Sciences with ATK. Orbital ATK offered its own Minotaur 3-6 series of rockets that use retired Peacekeeper missile motors and that operated in the same payload class as the planned Athenas.
DATE VEHICLE ID PAYLOAD MASS(t) SITE* ORBIT** --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 08/15/95 Athena 1 (LLV-1) DLV GemStar 1 0.136 VA 6 [FTO] 08/23/97 Athena 1 (LMLV-1) LM-2 Lewis 0.288 VA 6 LEO/S 01/07/98 Athena-2/TLIS LM-4 Lunar Prospector 0.295 CC 46 TLI  01/27/99 Athena-1 LM-6 ROCSAT 1 0.402 CC 46 LEO  04/27/99 Athena-2 LM-5 Ikonos  0.726 VA 6 [FTO] 09/24/99 Athena-2 LM-7 Ikonos 1 0.726 VA 6 LEO/S 09/30/01 Athena-1 LM-1 Starshine 3 + 3usats 0.184 KD 1 LEO  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------  Stg 2 thrust vector control, RSO @160 sec. Planned 650 km x 97.8 deg.  Lewis spun out of control on orbit.  TLIS = Trans-Lunar Injection Stage, a spin-stable Star Stage 3700S that used a Star 37FM solid motor.  588 × 601 km x 35 deg.  Payload shroud sep failed. FTO. Planned 678 × 679 km x 98.2 deg LEO/S.  Starshine to 470 km x 67 deg. PicoSat, PCSat, SAPPHIRE to 800 km x 67 deg. *, ** ABBREVIATIONS VA = Vandenberg AFB, California CC = Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida KD = Kodiak Launch Complex, Alaska [FTO] = Fail To Orbit LEO = Low Earth Orbit LEO/S = Sun Synchronous LEO TLI = Trans Lunar Injection References
Last Update: March 10, 2017