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Minotaur-C (Minotaur Commercial), formerly known as Taurus[1] or Taurus XL, is a four stage solid fueled launch vehicle built in the United States by Orbital Sciences (now Northrop Grumman) and launched from SLC-576E at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. It is based on the air-launched Pegasus rocket from the same manufacturer, utilizing a "zeroth stage" in place of an airplane. The Minotaur-C is able to carry a maximum payload of around 1,458 kg into a Low Earth Orbit.[2]

Minotaur-C (Taurus)
Taurus rocket.jpg
Taurus 1110 preparing to launch STEP 0 on March 13, 1994.
FunctionOrbital launch vehicle
ManufacturerOrbital Sciences, Orbital ATK, Northrop Grumman
Country of originUnited States
Cost per launchUS$40-50 million [1]
Height27.9 m (91.5 ft)
Diameter2.35 m (7.7 ft)
Mass73,000 kg (160,000 lb)
Payload to LEO1,458 kg (2,910 lb)
Launch history
Launch sitesVandenberg SLC-576E
Total launches10
First flight13 March 1994, 22:32 UTC
USA 101/USA 102
First stage - Castor 120
Engines1 solid
Thrust1,606.6 kN (361,177 lbf)
Specific impulse286 sec
Burn time83 seconds
Second stage Taurus-1
Engines1 solid
Thrust484.9 kN (109,012 lbf)
Specific impulse285 sec
Burn time73 seconds
Third stage - Pegasus-2
Engines1 solid
Thrust118.2 kN (26,570 lbf)
Specific impulse292 sec
Burn time73 seconds
Fourth stage - Pegasus-3
Engines1 solid
Thrust34.57 kN (7,770 lbf)
Specific impulse293 sec
Burn time65 seconds

First launched in 1994, it has successfully completed seven out of a total of ten military and commercial missions.[3] Three of four launches between 2001 and 2011 ended in failure, including the February 24, 2009 launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory mission[4] and the March 4, 2011 launch of the Glory mission,[5] which resulted in losses totalling $700 million for NASA (excluding the cost of the rockets themselves).[6][7] The Taurus launch vehicle was subsequently rebranded in 2014 as Minotaur-C,[8] which incorporates new avionics based on those used by the Minotaur family of rockets.[1][3] After a six years pause, the rocket successfully returned to flight in 2017 as Minotaur-C.


The Minotaur-C's first stage, an Orbital ATK Castor 120, is based on a Peacekeeper ICBM first stage. Stages 2 and 3 are Orion-50s (like the Pegasus-1 but without wings or stabilisers), and stage 4 is an Orion 38, derived from the Pegasus-3.[9]

Numbering systemEdit

Different configurations are designated using a four-digit code, similar to the numbering system used on Delta rockets. The first digit denotes the type of first stage being used, and whether the second and third stages use a standard or "XL" configuration.[10][11] The second digit denotes the diameter of the payload fairing.[10] The third digit denotes the type of fourth stage.[10] The fourth digit denotes an optional fifth stage, so far unused.[10]

Number First digit Second Digit Third Digit Fourth Digit
First stage Second stage Third stage Fairing diameter Fourth stage Fifth stage
0 N/A N/A N/A None
1 TU-903 Orion 50ST Orion 50T 1.60 m (63 in) Orion 38 N/A
2 Castor-120 Orion 50ST Orion 50T 2.34 m (92 in) N/A N/A
3 Castor-120 Orion 50SXLT Orion 50XLT N/A Star-37FM Star-37[11]

List of launchesEdit

Date/Time (UTC) Vehicle type Launch site Payload Result
1 March 13, 1994
ARPA Taurus VAFB SLC-576E STEP Mission 0 & DARPASAT Success
2 February 10, 1998
Commercial Taurus, 92" payload fairing and 63" dual payload attach fitting VAFB SLC-576E GFO and Orbcomm (satellites 11,12) Success
3 October 3, 1998
Air Force Taurus Configuration, 63" fairing, Peacekeeper Stage 0 VAFB SLC-576E Space Technology Experiment (STEX) for National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Success
4 December 21, 1999
Model 2110, 63" fairing, Castor 120 Stage 0 VAFB SLC-576E KOMPSAT and ACRIMSAT Success
5 March 12, 2000
Air Force Taurus Configuration, 63" fairing, Peacekeeper Stage 0 VAFB SLC-576E Multispectral Thermal Imager (MTI) Success
6 September 21, 2001
Model 2110, 63" fairing, Castor 120 Stage 0 VAFB SLC-576E Orbview-4/QuikTOMS Failure
7 May 20, 2004
Model 3210, 92" fairing, Castor 120 Stage 0 VAFB SLC-576E ROCSAT-2 Success
8 February 24, 2009
Model 3110, 63" fairing, Castor 120 Stage 0 VAFB SLC-576E Orbiting Carbon Observatory [12] Failure
9 March 4, 2011
Model 3110, 63" fairing, Castor 120 Stage 0 VAFB SLC-576E Glory, KySat-1, Hermes, and Explorer-1 [PRIME] Failure[13]
10 October 31, 2017
Model 3210, 92" fairing, Castor 120 Stage 0 VAFB SLC-576E SkySat x 6, Flock-3m x 4 Success

Launch failuresEdit


On September 21, 2001, a Taurus XL rocket failed during launch. When the second stage ignited at T+83 seconds, a nozzle gimbal actuator drive shaft seized for approximately 5 seconds causing loss of control. The vehicle recovered and continued to fly the mission profile, but failed to reach a stable orbit and reentered near Madagascar.[14]

Orbiting Carbon ObservatoryEdit

On February 24, 2009, a Taurus XL rocket failed during the launch of the $270m Orbiting Carbon Observatory spacecraft.[15] Liftoff occurred successfully at 09:55 GMT from Vandenberg Air Force Base, but data received at a later stage of the flight suggested that the fairing failed to separate. The rocket did not reach orbit,[4] owing to the extra weight of the fairing.[6][13] Launch vehicle and services for OCO are estimated at $54m.[16] The replacement satellite, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, was launched July 2, 2014 aboard a Delta II rocket.[17][18][19]


On March 4, 2011, a Taurus XL rocket failed again during the launch of NASA's $424 million Glory climate change monitoring satellite. In total, the last two failures of the Taurus XL have resulted in payload losses worth $700 million.[7] The reason for the failure was the same as with OCO: the payload fairing failed to separate, although the rocket's manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corporation had spent the last two years trying to fix the problem and had made several design changes to the fairing separation system. Ronald Grabe, manager of Orbital Sciences Corporation, which also built the Glory satellite itself, said the employees of his companies are "pretty devastated" because of the latest failure.[6] The fairing was built by the Vermont Composites company, and the frangible rail pyrotechnic separation system was built by the Ensign-Bickford Company. A NASA MIB panel concluded that the failure was most likely caused by a section of the frangible rail somewhere near the nose cap failing to separate. While a root cause could not be identified, two likely causes were identified: the rubber charge holder in the frangible rail slumping due to launch acceleration and random vibration, or a failure of the frangible rail system due to it operating outside the environment for which it was tested.[20]

A continued investigation eventually revealed that sub-standard parts with falsified test results were the likely cause of both of the OCO and Glory fairing failures.[21]

Ground-Based InterceptorEdit

The upper stages of the Minotaur-C are used by the boost vehicle of the Ground-Based Interceptor,[22] the anti-ballistic missile component of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ a b Clark, Stephen (24 February 2014). "Taurus rocket on the market with new name, upgrades". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  2. ^ "Minotaur-C_Factsheet.pdf" (PDF). northropgrumman.com.
  3. ^ a b Krebs, Gunter. "Taurus / Minotaur-C". Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Satellite to pinpoint sources and sinks of CO2".
  5. ^ "Glory". NASA.
  6. ^ a b c "NASA launch mishap: Satellite crashes into ocean". CBS. 2011-03-04.
  7. ^ a b "NASA science satellite lost in Taurus launch failure". Spaceflight Now. 2011-03-04.
  8. ^ Clark, Stephen. "Taurus rocket on the market with new name, upgrades". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  9. ^ "Taurus". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on 2007-02-02.
  10. ^ a b c d Krebs, Gunter. "Taurus-3110". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-03-08.
  11. ^ a b "Minotaur-C Fact Sheet" (PDF). Orbital ATK. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-30. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  12. ^ "OCO". Orbital Sciences Corporation.
  13. ^ a b "Taurus rocket nose shroud dooms another NASA satellite". Spaceflight Now, March 2011.
  14. ^ International reference guide to space launch systems, Fourth Edition, p. 486, ISBN 1-56347-591-X
  15. ^ Failure hits Nasa's 'CO2 hunter'
  16. ^ NASA FY2009 Budget Estimates
  17. ^ "Homepage: Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)". NASA. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 2013. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  18. ^ "NASA's OCO-2 brings sharp focus on global carbon". Phys Org. 3 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2015-02-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ NASA. "Overview of the Glory Mishap Investigation Results for Public Release" (PDF). NASA. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
  21. ^ After failed space flights, NASA investigation leads to Portland
  22. ^ William Graham (27 June 2013). "Orbital's Pegasus XL successfully lofts IRIS spacecraft". NASASpaceFlight.com. The Orbital Boost Vehicle, developed for the US military’s Ground Based Interceptor program, uses the upper stages of the Taurus
  23. ^ "Antares". Gunter's Space Page.