A Northrop Grumman Minotaur IV rocket has been launched from Virginia, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on the 15th of July. This one carried the NROL-129 mission to orbit for the Space Force and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
In case you don’t know, the NRO develops USA spy satellites, and its activity is usually classified. This means that we don’t exactly know what the NROL-129 spacecraft will do, or what its final orbital destination is.
According to NRO, “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 spacecraft is 24 meters tall, and it has four stages. The lower three ones get their power from a solid rocket motor from the Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles. Then there’s the fourth stage that comes with Northrop Grumman’s Orion 38 motor.
This one had first made its appearance in April 2010, and it has managed to go through 7 missions without any problems. Two of these seven missions were suborbital flights.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is placed on Virginia’s Wallops Island. It is operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, and it has all the supports it needs from NASA.
For those of you who don’t know, NROL-129 is the first launch from the MARS-Wallops complex and the first mission that this site has hosted, together with the U.S. Space Force. Their partnership has been created in December 2019. The NROL-129 was launched with the help of Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.