United Launch Alliance (ULA)'s Atlas V 401 rocket has launched the classified NROL-55 mission including spy satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
ULA has collaborated with the NRO Office of Space Launch and the Air Force on the integration and launch of the NROL-55 spacecraft to orbit with Atlas V vehicle.
Even though the mission’s primary payload was not announced, ULA did mention that 13 CubeSats shared a ride with the booster’s precious cargo. This was part of the NRO’s Government Rideshare Advanced Concepts Experiment (GRACE) auxiliary payload initiative.
Nine of these tiny spacecraft were sponsored by the NRO and four of them through NASA.
The GRACE portion of the mission will travel in the Atlas V’s Aft Bulkhead Carrier, which is in the rear of the rocket’s Centaur upper stage.
GRACE is the name of the NRO auxiliary payload that saw a total of 13 CubeSats, nine sponsored by the NRO and four sponsored by NASA, to orbit on this morning’s flight. The NRO has conducted similar rideshare efforts in 2012, 2013, and earlier this year.