SpaceX Launches Multiple Satellites for NRO from Vandenberg Space Base – SpaceFlight Now

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

SpaceX launched a national security mission on behalf of the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Friday night. The spy agency described the secret mission as “the second launch of NRO’s deployed architecture, which provides critical ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) services in space 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, which carries tail number B1081 in the SpaceX fleet, 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.

Just over eight minutes after takeoff, B1081 landed with the drone saying, “Of course I still love you.” This was OCISLY’s 95th landing and 326th landing to date.

The widespread architecture is growing.

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 the companies involved in 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 declined to confirm how many satellites are on the missions or their orbits. In a speech at this year’s Space Symposium in Colorado, There will be “about a half-dozen of these launches” this year, said Dr. Troy Mink, principal deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Organization.

These missions were not performed as part of the mission order for Phase II of the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program. This is because the National Reconnaissance Office needed to perform these tasks before assigning mission order tasks to Phase III.

“The NRO partnered with the USSF Space Systems Command’s Assured Access to Space team on Phase 3 acquisition and influenced the development of Phase 3, Track 1 – as a means of obtaining flexible launch solutions with customizable mission assurance,” an NRO spokesperson said in a statement. “When considering the launch cadence and the need for customizable mission assurance, the NRO realized that we needed a bridge between Phase 2 and Phase 3 – Track 1. This led to some missions being acquired outside of the NSSL. The NSSL has been, and will continue to be, the NRO’s primary mechanism for obtaining launch services.”

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