The U.S. Space Force (USSF) Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) successfully completed its Flight Readiness Review for the NROL-129 mission in support of National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
The NRO Launch-129 (NROL-129) mission now remains on track with the launch taking place no earlier than July 15 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0B at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The launch will be conducted with a Minotaur IV rocket built and operated by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (previously Orbital ATK).
This mission is managed by the SMC Launch Enterprise’s Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) and was awarded under the Orbital/Suborbital Program 3 (OSP-3) Lane 1 capability.
“We look forward to launching NROL-129 for our National Reconnaissance Office customer,” said Brig. Gen. Jason Cothern, SMC vice commander and Air Force program executive officer for Space Enterprise. “This is a great example of using SMC’s small launch contracts to expand our capability to provide reliable assured access to space.”
“We have successfully launched 26 Minotaur missions with our last Minotaur mission from Wallops in 2013,” stated Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief of SMC’s Launch Small Launch and Targets Division. “This will be our first U.S. Space Force mission and the first dedicated NRO mission from Wallops. We look forward to continuing to launch national priority satellites for our NRO partner.” Rose is responsible for the launch service which includes range support, launch vehicle integration, space vehicle interface and mating, and the launch service for this important mission.
The NROL-129 mission will carry 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”.
The NROL-129 mission will be the first USSF mission from Wallops Flight Facility and the spy satellite agency’s first dedicated launch from Wallops. It is also the first Minotaur mission from 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.
The mission will also be NRO’s 54th launch since 1996 and its first launch on a Minotaur IV. The NRO’s next launch from NASA Wallops Flight Facility is scheduled for 2nd Quarter CY2021.
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. 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).
SMC, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is the center of excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. SMC’s portfolio includes space launch, global positioning systems (GPS), military satellite communications (SATCOM), a defense meteorological satellite control network, range systems, space-based infrared systems, and space situational awareness capabilities.
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.