The U.S. Space Force on July 15 launched four classified payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) aboard a Northrop Grumman [NOC] Minotaur IV rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0B of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The NROL-129 mission was the first dedicated NRO launch from the Wallops Flight Facility, the agency’s 54th launch since 1996 and the NRO’s first launch on a Minotaur IV.
Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, the chief of the small launch and targets division at Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s (SMC) launch enterprise, said in a statement that additional missions with Northrop Grumman are expected, and Air Force Col. Robert Bongiovi, the director of SMC’s launch enterprise, said that the launch occurred as the NROL-129 team pressed forward “to execute this important mission amidst this global [COVID-19] pandemic.”
NROL-129 is the third mission of 2020 for the NRO, according to the agency.
Chris Scolese, the director of the NRO, said in a statement that “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.”
The NRO’s next launch, NROL-44, is scheduled for August from Cape Canaveral, the NRO said.
The July 15 event was the seventh Minotaur IV flight and the 27th launch for Minotaur, which is capable of responsive launch from multiple spaceports, according to Kurt Eberly, Northrop Grumman’s director of launch vehicles.
Minotaur is capable of launching payloads weighing up to 4,000 pounds to low earth orbit. The NROL-129 rocket configuration included three decommissioned Peacekeeper ICBM stages and a Northrop Grumman Orion 38 upper stage.
The Minotaur launch vehicles consist of 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,” the company said.
The Space Force launched its first national security mission from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on March 26–the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite and the final one in the protected satellite communications constellation.
The AEHF satellite built by Lockheed Martin [LMT] was launched on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. ULA is a joint launch venture between Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin.