WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office successfully completed its final launch of the year on Dec. 19, wrapping up a 2020 that saw the agency launch six missions into orbit.
For NROL-108, the agency utilized a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was NRO’s second dedicated launch with SpaceX, with the first taking place with NROL-76 in May 2017.
“We are excited to partner with SpaceX again,” NRO Principal Deputy Director Troy Meink said in a statement.
As is the agency’s practice, NRO did not reveal details of the payload’s mission or capabilities, merely noting that it is “a national security payload designed, built and operated by the agency.”
“Data collected by NRO’s national security systems are used to provide intelligence to United States’ senior policy makers, the intelligence community and Department of Defense, as well as U.S. allied partners,” the agency explained in a statement. “Additionally, information collected by NRO systems can be used to assist emergency and disaster relief efforts in the U.S. and around the world.”
Over the last 12 months, the agency has used four different launch providers and five different types of rocket to get its payloads into orbit. NRO started the year with its first ever launch from New Zealand in January, utilizing an Electron rocket from relative newcomer Rocket Lab. The company provided a second launch for NRO with that rocket in June. In July, the agency switched things up by using a Northrop Grumman Minotaur IV rocket for a mission. More recently, NRO partnered with United Launch Alliance for two missions: first in November with an Atlas V rocket, and then again in December with a Delta IV rocket.
“The successful launch of NROL-108 by SpaceX just days after the launch of NROL-44 by United Launch Alliance, underscores NRO’s commitment to a robust launch schedule supported by a growing number of partners and locations,” said Meink. “Despite the challenges of 2020, NRO this year has successfully launched six missions from two countries. We are dedicated to delivering reconnaissance capabilities that keep this nation and our allies safe, while prioritizing the security and health of our launch teams.”
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.