Another four U.S. spy satellites launched into orbit Wednesday morning from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia, at 9:46 AM EDT — lifting the NROL-129 mission to space for both the Space Force and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), according to a NASA press release.
Secret spy satellite launches into orbit for Space Force
The NRO manufactures and runs the United States' fleet of spy satellites — typically classified — which is why we don't know the profile of the NROL-129 spacecraft's mission when it reaches orbit. We don't even know what its final orbital trajectory is.
"NROL-129 supports NRO's overall national security mission to provide intelligence data to United States senior policy makers, the intelligence community and Department of Defense," wrote NRO officials in a press kit.
Minotaur IV, Space Force supervision
The launch vehicle — called the Minotaur IV — is 24 meters (78 feet) tall and has four launch stages. The first three (lower) stages are powered with solid rocket motors built from decommissioned Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Stage four contains Northrop Grumman's Orion 38 motor, reports Space.com.
First debuted in April 2010, the Minotaur IV has successfully completed seven missions, two of which were suborbital flights.
MARS launch site
The MARS launch site is on Virginia's Wallops Island, next to the NASA's Wallops Flight Facility that operated MARS until 2003. As of writing, the spaceport falls under the purview of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, with help from NASA Wallops.
As the NRO's first launch from the MARS-Wallops facility, the NROL-129 is also the first mission the Wallops-Island site has hosted jointly with the U.S. Space Force — a military branch created in December 2019. The Space Force's Launch Enterprise Program — a subsidiary branch of its Space and Missle Systems Center gave launch services for NROL-129.