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Video: US Space Force, National Reconnaissance Office launch 4 secret spy satellites

Northrop Grumman successfully launched its Minotaur IV Rocket into orbit on July 15, 2020. (Northrop Grumman/Released)

At least one rocket managed to launch this week as Northrop Grumman used its Minotaur IV to get a National Reconnaissance Office spacecraft into space.

A weekend attempt by SpaceX to launch its next batch of Starlink satellites as well as a Tuesday launch attempt by SpaceX for the South Korean military along with a planned launch from Japan of a Mars orbiter for the United Arab Emirates have all be scrubbed this week.

But the launch designated NROL-129 with four secret payloads designed by the agency took off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore at 9:46 a.m. Wednesday, the first dedicated launch from the NRO at the mid-Atlantic site.

“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 NRO Director Chris Scolese. “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.”

Northrop Grumman successfully launched its Minotaur IV Rocket into orbit on July 15, 2020. (Northrop Grumman/Released)

It was the third NRO mission of 2020, with the next set for August 26 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy.

Wednesday’s launch was on the smaller Minotaur IV rocket on its seventh flight, used to launch payloads of up to 4,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit. Northrop Grumman used three decommissioned Peacekeeper rocket stages married to the company’s Orion 38 solid fuel upper stage.

Northrop Grumman’s full press release is below:

WALLOPS, Va. – July 15, 2020 – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) successfully launched its Minotaur IV space launch vehicle and placed a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spacecraft into orbit at 9:46 a.m. EDT on July 15. The Minotaur IV was launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0B at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

Northrop Grumman successfully launched its Minotaur IV Rocket into orbit Wednesday, at 9:46 a.m. ET.

“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.”

The NROL-129 launch (L-129) was the seventh Minotaur IV flight. The Minotaur IV is capable of launching payloads of up to 4,000 pounds (or 1,800 kilograms) to low earth orbit. This mission’s Minotaur IV configuration included three decommissioned Peacekeeper stages and a Northrop Grumman manufactured Orion 38 solid fuel upper stage. The Minotaur rockets are manufactured at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Chandler, Arizona; Vandenberg, California; and Clearfield and Magna, Utah.

The Minotaur family of launch vehicles is based on government-furnished Peacekeeper and Minuteman rocket motors that Northrop Grumman has integrated with modern avionics and other subsystems to produce a cost-effective, responsive launcher based on flight-proven hardware. Minotaur rockets have launched from ranges in Alaska, California, Florida and Virginia.

Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur IV Rocket successfully launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility this morning.

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.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.


© 2020 The Orlando Sentinel