The United States Space Force (USSF) will be launching a classified rocket mission from the NASA Wallops spaceport on the Virginia coast on June 15. Describing it only as a “national security payload”, the mission, NROL-111, is being lifted into space for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO.)
The NRO is a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community, a sister agency to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA.) While the NRO was created in 1960, its existence was kept classified until 1992. The NRO is the Intelligence Community element and a Department of Defense agency responsible for developing, acquiring, launching, and operating America’s intelligence satellites to meet the national security needs of the nation.
The classified payload will enter space atop a Northrop Grumman Minotaur I rocket. Derived from the Minuteman II missile, it is now used to launch small satellites for the U.S. Government. The rocket stands roughly 63 feet tall and has a diameter of about 5 and a half feet. It can carry objects weighing as much as 730 pounds to sun-synchronous orbit and objects up to 1,280 pounds for low-Earth orbit, the orbit likely used by NRO for this mission.
Minotaur I rockets were successfully launched from the NASA Wallops facility on June 30, 2011 and again on November 20, 2013.
The rocket launch should be visible around a wide area of the Mid Atlantic when it launches. However, with these classified missions, the specific launch time and countdown aren’t always revealed ahead of time. The Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise is providing the launch services for this mission and not the more public-friendly and accessible NASA.