Space

NRO set to launch intelligence satellite in the wee hours

WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office is set to launch a new intelligence payload into orbit in the early hours of the morning on Aug. 26.

The Launch Readiness Review has given the mission — dubbed NROL-44 — the “go,” clearing it for liftoff at 2:16 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

As of the Aug. 24 announcement, the weather forecast is favorable with a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions. The launch period on Aug. 26 extends from 1:50 to 6:25 a.m. EDT.

Charged with developing, procuring and operating America’s intelligence satellites, the NRO does not typically share detailed information about the payloads it launches into orbit. The classified payload arrived in Florida in late July and was integrated with the rocket in early August.

The launch will utilize a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. This will be the eighth time the agency has used a Delta IV Heavy rocket to get payloads on orbit, with the most recent launch taking place in January 2019 for NROL-71.

“ULA is proud of the long-standing history of supporting critical national security missions and the continued partnership with our mission partners,” Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of government and commercial programs, said in a statement. “Only the Delta IV Heavy possesses the capability to deliver this unique mission to orbit due to a combination of heavy lift and the largest flight-proven payload fairing.”

This will be the NRO’s fourth mission launched this year. The first two missions lifted off from Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch pad — the agency’s first launch to take place in that country — using the company’s Electron rocket. A third launch, NROL-129, took place in July. NROL-129 was the agency’s first dedicated launch from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and used a Northrop Grumman Minotaur IV rocket.

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