The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) launched another spy satellite in the Pacific on Thursday just one day before China swarmed Taiwan with more than a dozen warships and nearly 70 warplanes. The launch is the second of two missions, the first of which was launched on July 13.
According to the NRO, NROL-199 was launched from New Zealand on Aug. 4 in partnership with the Australian Department of Defence. The first mission involving NROL-162 was launched on July 13, and both the NROL-199 and the NROL-162 carried “national security payloads designed, built, and operated by NRO.”
The pair of missions demonstrate the office’s “capability to launch multiple rockets from overseas locations within weeks of one another,” the office asserted, adding that speed and agility are critical factors when working with government partners “to keep the world safe and secure.”
“NRO places high priority on partnerships, and these launches reflect the strength of our relationships with Australia and New Zealand,” said NRO Director Dr. Chris Scolese said in a statement. “Not only are we working together to launch these satellites, we will all benefit from the critical data they collect and deliver. This is an opportunity to build a foundation for even greater collaboration in the future.”
The NRO worked with the New Zealand Space Agency and Rocket Lab to execute the missions.
Rocket Lab shared video of the launch on Twitter, writing, “MISSION SUCCESS! Electron’s Kick Stage has successfully deployed the @NatReconOfC’s payload to orbit. Welcome to your new home in space, #NROL199!”
“NRO has a long legacy of innovation, and launching two missions in less than one month from an overseas location is yet another example of our progress,” Col. Chad Davis, NRO’s director of the Office of Space Launch, said in a statement. “We are pushing boundaries to ensure we are making the most efficient and effective use of our resources.”
The satellite launch comes as tensions between the U.S. and China reach new heights in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed 13 warships and a record 68 military aircraft on Friday into the Taiwan Strait and the zone of airspace Taiwan’s military defensively monitors.
The Chinese military’s aerial activity in the Taiwan Strait on Friday represents the largest reported incursion into the Taiwanese ADIZ in a single day.
Additionally, a shocking report earlier this year revealed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tracked in real-time a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier moving off the coast of Long Island, New York in 2021.
China is also developing new anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles that could destroy U.S. satellites in orbit. China’s ASAT missiles could effectively weaponize space and severely hinder U.S. military operations if U.S. satellites are targeted.