The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the Australian Department of Defense designed and developed a national security payload, which launched at 2:30 a.m. Eastern time on July 13 aboard a Rocket Lab USA [RKLB] Electron rocket from Rocket Lab Launch Complex-1 in New Zealand for the NROL-162 mission, the NRO said on July 13.

Another national security payload is to launch on an Electron rocket in the next such responsive space mission, NROL-199, on July 22.

NRO Director Chris Scolese said in a July 13 agency statement that NRO’s collaboration with Australia “bolsters our partnership and strengthens the foundation for future coordination as we work to secure and expand our intelligence advantage in a competitive space environment.”

“The NROL-162 and NROL-199 missions will demonstrate NRO’s capability to launch multiple rockets from overseas locations within days of one another,” NRO said. “This speed and agility are critical as NRO innovates faster working with government partners to keep the world safe and secure. NRO worked closely with New Zealand Space Agency, which licensed the launch, and Rocket Lab as the launch provider.”

Such responsive launch may prove useful to meeting national security breadth of coverage requirements and, as a backup, if a critical U.S. satellite sustains damage and becomes inoperable.

“The satellites [for NROL-162 and NROL-199] will support the NRO to provide critical information to government agencies and decision makers monitoring international issues including the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, as well as international drug traffickers and criminal organizations; support international peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations; and assess the impact of natural disasters,” per Rocket Lab.

The company’s Electron rocket also carried NRO payloads in the agency’s first two launches from New Zealand in January 2020 and June 2020 under the agency’s Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) program. The NRO announced the RASR program in April 2018.

In February, NRO launched the NROL-87 mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket–NRO’s first launch this year–followed by the NROL-85 mission in April aboard the reused rocket body from NROL-87–the first rocket reuse by the NRO and the second Falcon 9 launch under the U.S. Space Force’s National Security Space Launch contract.

Rocket Lab said that it has created a Responsive Space Program to open a direct line of communication with satellite operators to understand their mission requirements and then develop customized responsive mission plans that could be executed within a day of a satellite arriving at a launch site (Defense Daily, July 7).

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill believe that responsive commercial satellites and commercial launches could help the U.S. military reconstitute constellations of military satellites when adversaries disrupt their functions during conflicts or before them (Defense Daily, July 26, 2021).

Space Force and the NRO are increasingly using commercial satellites to provide a breadth of coverage and to ensure that an adversary is unable to disable U.S. infrastructure and leave military forces, intelligence agencies, and national leaders in the dark.