This morning at approximately 8:37 a.m. EDT, United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully sent a rocket into space. This is ULA’s sixth successful launch this year. With the weather 100% favorable, the Atlas V rocket took off from Launch Complex 41 on Florida’s Space Coast carrying a classified NROL-61 satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
The payload separated from the rocket right on schedule, about four minutes after launch. At about six minutes into launch, the ULA shut down its broadcast at the request of the NRO.
The NRO was established in 1961 — four years after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1— and worked in secret until 1992, when its existence was declassified. NRO payloads are generally classified. Thus, no information is available about today’s payload. The mission description simply states that the satellite will operate “in support of national defense.”
Some speculate the rocket is carrying the first in a new generation of communications satellites designed to relay intelligence images captured by spacecraft in lower orbits. There’s no way to know for sure, though. We’ll be sure to keep a close eye on the next launch.