As per a NASA press release, a total of four US spy satellites were launched into orbit at 9:46 AM EDT on Wednesday morning form the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia – carrying the NROL-129 mission to space for Space Force and the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
The NRO is handling the manufacturing and running of the United States’ fleet comprised of spy satellites. These are classified, and therefore we do not know much about the profile of the NROL-129 spacecraft’s mission once it has entered the orbit. There is also no word on the final orbital trajectory.
NRO officials wrote in a press kit, ‘NROL-129 supports NRO’s overall national security mission to provide intelligence data to United States senior policymakers, the intelligence community and Department of Defense.’ The launch vehicle is called Minotaur IV, and it stands at the height of 24 meters. It has a total of four (04) launch stages. The lower stages – first three out of the four – are powered via solid rocket motors that have been created from decommissioned Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Stage four, however, features Northrop Grumman’s Orion 38 motor.
The Minotaur IV made its first debut back in April 2010 and has carried out a total of seven successful missions since then. Two of those missions were suborbital flights. The MARS launch site is located on Virginia’s Wallops Island close to the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility that was operating MARS until 2003. The spaceport falls under the jurisdiction of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.
NROL-129 is the first launch from the MARS-Wallops facility by NRO and is also the very first mission that was the result of a joint collaboration between the Wallops-Island site and the US Space Force. The US Space Force was created in December 2019 as a military branch.