NRO Launches First Dedicated Mission from NASA Wallops Flight Facility

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) successfully launched its first dedicated mission from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, at 09:46 a.m. EDT on July 15, 2020.

The NROL-129 mission launched aboard a Northrop Grumman Minotaur IV rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0B. This was the first Minotaur mission from Wallops since 2013.

The NROL-129 mission carried four payloads designed, built and operated by the spy satellite agency, NRO. According to the agency, “NROL-129 supports NRO’s overall national security mission to provide intelligence data to United States’ senior policy makers, the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense”.

This mission is the NRO’s third launch of 2020. It is also the first Minotaur mission from NASA Wallops since 2013 and the second orbital launch from the MARS launch pads in 2020. Minotaur rockets have been launched from Wallops for nearly 14 years.

“NROL-129 represents a collaboration between the NRO and our industry partners to design, build, launch and operate a system of satellites that will demonstrate revolutionary capabilities of value to the nation and our allies,” said Dr. Chris Scolese, the agency’s director. “Despite facing challenges in 2020, we have found new and better ways to collaborate with our partners from a distance, relentlessly pursuing our mission and denying sanctuary to our adversaries. I want to thank all of those involved across NASA, Northrop Grumman, Virginia Space, the Space and Missile Systems Center, and of course, the NRO for pulling together to make this launch a success.”

“The NRO is committed to providing resiliency in our operations through diversified launch options, and the success of NROL-129 is the culmination of years of steadfast collaboration with our civilian, military and commercial space partners to help us achieve that commitment,” said U.S. Air Force Colonel Chad Davis, director of the NRO’s Office
of Space Launch. “We have a long record of developing, delivering, launching and operating the world’s most advanced space collection systems and capabilities in support of national security, and we’re happy to add our first dedicated launch from the Virginia Space Coast to that history.”

The NRO is the Intelligence Community (IC) element and a Department of Defense (DoD) agency responsible for developing, acquiring, launching, and operating America’s intelligence satellites to meet the national security needs of the nation.

The NRO’s next launch, NROL-44, is currently scheduled for August 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The 78-foot tall Minotaur IV launch vehicle consists of three solid-fueled motors from decommissioned Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Northrop Grumman’s commercial Orion 38 solid rocket upper stage. The rocket is capable of launching payloads of up to 4,000 pounds (or 1,800 kilograms) to low earth orbit.

The Minotaur rockets are manufactured at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Chandler, Arizona; Vandenberg, California; and Clearfield and Magna, Utah.

Minotaur IV made its maiden flight on 22 April 2010, carrying the HTV-2a Hypersonic Test Vehicle. The first orbital launch occurred on 26 September 2010 with the SBSS satellite for the U.S. Air Force (USAF). The NROL-129 launch (L-129) was the seventh Minotaur IV flight.

The vehicle used to launch the L-129 mission was procured under the OSP-3 contract administered by the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. Minotaur vehicles are currently available to customers under the OSP-4 contract.

“This mission marks the 27th consecutive successful launch for the company’s Minotaur product line which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year,” said Kurt Eberly, director, launch vehicles, Northrop Grumman. “Minotaur’s record of success along with its ability to responsively launch from multiple spaceports continues to be a valuable asset for our customers.”

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