WASHINGTON – The National Reconnaissance Office launched its first satellite of the year on Feb. 2., with plans to launch more than a dozen additional payloads later in 2022.
“The success of NROL-87 was the result of multiple partnerships and the innovation of our people,” said NRO Director Chris Scolese in a statement. “Technology is ever changing. The relationships we build enable us to recognize solutions faster to ensure we field the latest capabilities. Our people continue to prove they are our greatest asset, solving the most complex problems in new and innovative ways.”
The satellite took off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Following the launch, the first stage safely returned to Earth for a picture perfect landing on the launch pad.
The launch is the first time the NRO has used a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket procured under the National Security Space Launch program. The agency plans to reuse the booster in a future mission.
“Today was our first National Security Space Launch SpaceX Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base and it was a true team effort,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Space Systems Command’s Launch Enterprise, in a statement. “The Launch Enterprise teams’ relentless pursuit of innovation drives us to partner with industry to assure access to space, meet mission objectives, and lower costs. Each launch is unique and culminates a campaign of activity that ensures successful placement of the space vehicle into orbit.”
The rocket’s sole passenger was a payload designed and built by the NRO, the intelligence agency charged with developing and maintaining the nation’s spy satellites. The agency declined to provide any specific information on the payload’s mission or capability, saying that information is classified.
“NROL-87 enhances NRO’s overall mission of providing critical information to more than a half-million government users to include every member of the Intelligence Community, two dozen domestic agencies, our nation’s military, lawmakers, and decision makers,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement.
The NRO expects to conduct more than six additional launches in 2022 to send more than a dozen payloads into orbit.
This article was updated with statements from the NRO and Space Force.
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.