A Northrop Grumman Minotaur 1 four-stage solid fuel rocket blasted off from the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tuesday morning (June 15), heading to orbit with three secret spacecraft for the U.S. government's spy satellite agency.
The Minotaur I was launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0B at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The 21launch vehicle features two decommissioned Minuteman rocket motors, Northrop Grumman-manufactured Orion 50XL and Orion 38 solid rocket motors, andavionics. The vehicle is capable of launching payloads of up to 1,278 pounds (or 580 kilograms) into low Earth orbit.
The first stage is more than 50 years old, which means it is likely the oldest rocket motor ever used on a space launch; however, teams test-fired motors with similar ages a few years ago and verified the performance. The motors were then stored and refurbished at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, before shipping out for launch preparations.
The NROL-111 launch was the 12th Minotaur I flight and 6th from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The vehicle used to launch the NROL-111 mission was procured under the OSP-3 contract administered by the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. Minotaur vehicles are currently available to customers under the OSP-4 contract.
"We certainly cannot get into any specifics for national security reasons, but I can tell you that there are three spacecraft that will be launched on this mission," Col. Chad Davis, director of the NRO's office of space launch, said during the press conference. "NRO payloads and capabilities, in general, are the nation's eyes and ears in space, being able to deliver that exquisite intelligence information from space that our warfighters and national decision-makers need."
The fleet of top-secret satellites collect high-resolution optical and radar imagery of various sites around the world, eavesdrop on communications from U.S. adversaries and help track worldwide military activity.