Space Force to Launch Classified NRO Payload from Wallops Flight Facility

The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center is on schedule to launch a top secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office on July 15, marking the new service’s first launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The National Reconnaissance Office Launch-129 (NROL-129) mission will be the 27th launch of a Northrop Grumman Minotaur IV rocket, but the first from Wallops since 2013.

SMC Launch Enterprise’s Rocket Systems Launch Program manages the mission. NRO, a Department of Defense organization that operates America’s reconnaissance satellites, owns the payload. 

“This will be our first U.S. Space Force mission and the first dedicated NRO mission from Wallops,” Lt. Col. Ryan A. Rose, chief of SMC’s Launch Small Launch and Targets Division, said in a press release. 

The NROL-129 mission will carry four payloads that will assist in the NRO’s intelligence gathering mission, according to the release.  

The NRO has three more launches scheduled for the rest of the year, two from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and one from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The next launch at Wallops is planned for next year.

“We look forward to launching NROL-129 for our National Reconnaissance Office customer,” Brig. Gen. D. Jason Cothern, SMC vice commander and Air Force program executive officer for space enterprise, said in a press release. “This is a great example of using SMC’s small launch contracts to expand our capability to provide reliable assured access to space.”

The mission will be live streamed on Wallops YouTube channel beginning at 8:30 a.m. on July 15, and the launch may be visible along the East Coast, according to NASA.