A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 July 28 at 8:37 a.m. EDT. Designated NROL-61, the mission is in support of national defense.
This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) 421 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter-diameter Extra Extended Payload Fairing (XEPF). The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.
“Thank you to the entire mission team for years of hard work and collaboration on today’s successful launch of NROL-61. We are proud the U.S. Air Force and NRO Office of Space Launch have entrusted ULA with delivering this critical asset for our nation’s security,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Custom Services. “Our continued one launch at a time focus and exceptional teamwork make launches like today’s successful.”
Racing east under the power of its main engine and twin solid rocket boosters generating a total of one and a half million pounds of thrust, the 200-foot tall Atlas cut a path through clear blue skies and leaving behind a towering, arcing pillar of smoke on its was to deliver NROL-61 to geostationary orbit 22,000 miles high.
Just after payload fairing jettison, United Launch Alliance cut off the live launch broadcast as the mission entered secrecy at the request of NRO. However, two hours later, ULA declared the launch to be a success.
“The successful launch of NROL-61 is another tremendous achievement in a series of accomplishments we have had so far this year. This launch – and the launch last month of NROL-37 also from the Cape – would not have been possible if it weren’t for the hard work, dedication, and teamwork of our people and our Air Force and industry partners. This was a very good day for America and for our national security interests,” said Colonel Clint Hunt, USAF, NROL-61 Mission Director, NRO Office of Space Launch.
“Our team diligently prepared for this important mission through a series of rigorous rehearsals, readiness reviews and pre-operational checkouts,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander and mission Launch Decision Authority.
“This mission, once again, clearly demonstrates the successful collaboration we have with our mission partners at NRO, Space and Systems Missile Center and ULA as we continue to shape the future of America’s space operations. This successful launch helps to ensure that vital NRO resources will continue to bolster our national defense while showcasing why the 45th Space Wing is the ‘World’s Premiere Gateway to Space.'”
NROL-61 is the third of four launches in 2016 for the intelligence agency. The next NRO launch is scheduled for December, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
This was ULA’s 6th launch in 2016 and the 109th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006. ULA’s next launch is the Delta IV AFSPC-6 satellite for the U.S. Air Force. The launch is scheduled for Aug. 19 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
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