WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance launched a new intelligence satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Nov. 13, marking the American agency’s fourth successful launch of the year.
“We’re excited to be back at CCAFS with another successful launch alongside our partners at ULA [United Launch Alliance], the 45th Space Wing, and the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center. The successful launch of NROL-101 is another example of the NRO’s commitment to constantly evolving our crucial national security systems to support our defense and intelligence partners,” said Col. Chad Davis, director of NRO’s Office of Space Launch.
NROL-101 was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with help from the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise. The Atlas family of rockets have been used for 668 successful launches since it was first introduced in 1957.
For this mission, ULA incorporated new Northrop Grumman Graphite Epoxy Motors 63 solid-fuel rocket boosters, which helped the first stage lift more weight by burning solid propellant. Each of the 66-foot rocket boosters contributed a maximum 371,550 pounds of thrust to help lift the rocket and its payload off the ground. Those boosters will be an important component for ULA’s future generation of Vulcan Centaur launch vehicles.
NRO does not usually reveal details of its satellites or their specific functions. In a statement, the agency simply noted that the classified national security payload was built by NRO in support of its overhead reconnaissance mission.
NRO’s next scheduled launch is NROL-108, which is slated to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in December 2020.
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.