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.) While officials are hush-hush about the payload, the launch time and visibility map were released today by NASA Wallops. The launch, set for 7am, could be visible in the sky in portions of the Mid Atlantic as long as Mother Nature cooperates. NRO says the launch could happen as late as 11:30am in the morning if things don’t happen at the start of the launch window.
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. The classified payload for this mission appears to consists of three objects, but details on what they are or where they are headed remain out of the public eye.
Minotaur I rockets were successfully launched from the NASA Wallops facility on June 30, 2011 and again on November 20, 2013.
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.
While the NASA Wallops Visitor’s Center won’t be open for those that want to watch the launch from there, NASA Wallops will be broadcasting the mission countdown and launch beginning on June 15 at 6:30am on their YouTube channel.