Image: Athena 2 launch
An Athena 2 rocket launches NASA's Lunar Prospector probe in 1998. Lockheed Martin and ATK have announced that they are reviving the Athena line of launch vehicles. staff and news service reports
updated 3/25/2010 10:04:40 PM ET 2010-03-26T02:04:40

Lockheed Martin and ATK are teaming up to build and sell a booster rocket known as the Athena, a decade after the brand was put into mothballs.

The joint venture said on Thursday that it would make next-generation versions of the Athena launch vehicle available for launch starting in 2012.

Earlier versions of the Athena flew seven times between 1995 and 2001 with five successful missions, including a launch that put NASA's Lunar Prospector spacecraft into orbit around the moon. That liftoff marked the only time that a commercial vehicle was used for a lunar mission.

Athena program manager Al Simpson said Lockheed Martin had put production of the rocket on hold because of a declining market for small satellite launches. Now, new demand for small satellites coming from the Department of Defense and NASA is making the Athena economically viable, with an estimated launch rate of one to two missions per year, Simpson said.

The company plans to offer two versions of the solid-fueled rocket. The two-stage Athena 1c could carry about 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) to an orbit 100 nautical miles above Earth, and the three-stage Athena 2c will be able to lift more than 3,770 pounds (1,712 kilograms) to the same orbit. Lockheed Martin said the rocket could also launch payloads to the moon.

ATK developed a new upper-stage solid rocket motor known as the Castor 30 that will be used on the Athena.

The Athena will compete with California-based SpaceX's Falcon 1E and several rockets sold by Orbital Sciences Corp., among others.

Athena is expected to fly from a launch complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida that recently was acquired by Space Florida, a state-backed economic development group. Other potential launch sites for Athena include Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Wallops Island in Virginia and Alaska's Kodiak Island.

This report includes information from Reuters and

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