Athena rocket carrying the NASA Lunar Prospector
spacecraft. The rocket’s similarity to an ICBM
is easily apparent. (credit: Roger Guillemette)

Athena rising?

by Dwayne Day
Monday, February 11, 2013

In December, the US Air Force took what many considered to be the first step in breaking the United Launch Alliance’s monopoly on launching national security satellites into orbit. The Air Force announced that Space Exploration Technologies—better known as SpaceX—had received a contract to launch the DSCOVR solar storm warning spacecraft in 2014 atop a Falcon 9 rocket, and the Space Test Program-2 satellite atop a Falcon Heavy rocket in 2015. But almost completely ignored in the Air Force announcement was that the military would also now allow Lockheed Martin to make its Athena rocket available for launching small national security payloads.

Athena is not familiar to many people in the space field because it has essentially been off the market for the past dozen years. It originally started life in 1993 as the Lockheed Launch Vehicle, or LLV, later changed to Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle, or LMLV. By its third launch it was renamed Athena—the goddess of wisdom, and strategic warfare. Like all new rockets it had a rough start.

During the early 1990s, many people in the United States were talking about the possibility of smaller satellites taking over many traditional roles. In particular, the end of the Cold War and the 1991 Persian Gulf War—also known as Operation Desert Storm—led to much speculation that the military would begin developing smaller satellites that would require launch vehicles.

Read more: The Space Review: Athena rising?.

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