SpaceX Launches Multiple NRO Satellites From Vandenberg Space Force Base – Spaceflight Now

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Space Force Base on the NROL-186 mission on June 28, 2024. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX launched a national security mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office from Vandenberg Space Center on Friday evening. The spy agency described the classified mission as “the second launch of the National Reconnaissance Office’s burgeoning architecture, which provides critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services to the nation.”

The Falcon 9 rocket supporting this mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at the opening of a two-hour window, at 8:14 PM PST (11:14 PM EDT, 0314 UTC).

The Falcon 9 first-stage booster supporting this mission, SpaceX’s fleet number B1081, launched for the eighth time. Its previous missions have included launching the Crew-7 astronaut mission to the International Space Station, two climate-monitoring satellites (NASA’s PACE and ESA’s EarthCARE) and two Starlink flights.

A little more than eight minutes after liftoff, B1081 touched down on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone spacecraft. This was the 95th landing of the OCISLY booster vehicle and the 326th landing to date.

The multiplying architecture grows

This mission was the second launch of the NRO’s so-called “engineering proliferators,” following the launch of the NROL-146 mission in May. Reports from Reuters earlier this year indicated that these satellites are based on the Starshield satellite bus that SpaceX built in partnership with Northrop Grumman.

In a statement to Spaceflight Now, the National Reconnaissance Organization said:

“NRO systems are designed, built, and operated by the NRO. As a matter of national security, we do not discuss companies associated with building our systems, our contractual relationships with them, their specific activities, or the locations where NRO systems are built.

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The agency also refused to confirm the number of satellites on these missions as well as their orbits. In a speech she delivered at this year’s Space Symposium in Colorado, There will be “about six of these launches” this year, said Dr. Troy Mink, NRO’s principal deputy director.

This mission was not procured as part of the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 mission order. This is because the NRO needed these missions to move forward before task orders were assigned to Phase III.

“NRO partnered with the USSF Space Systems Command’s Assured Space Access Team on the Phase 3 acquisition and influenced the development of Phase 3, Track 1 – as a way to procure flexible launch solutions while ensuring a customizable mission,” an NRO spokesperson said. In the current situation. “When considering the launch cadence and the need for ad hoc mission assurance, the NRO recognized that we needed a bridge between Phase 2 to Phase 3 – Track 1. This led to the procurement of some missions outside of the NSSL. The NSSL has been, and will continue to be, the NRO’s primary mechanism for procurement Launch services.

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