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Northrop’s Minotaur I rocket launches NROL-111 mission for NRO

Minotaur I rocket with NRO payload
NROL111 mission launches on a Northrop Grumman Minotaur I rocket from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport's Pad 0B at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on June 15, 2021. Photo: NRO

Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur I rocket placed a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload into orbit in a launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on June 15.

The rocked carried three classified national security payloads designed, built, and operated by the NRO to support its overhead reconnaissance mission.

NROL-111 is NRO’s final scheduled launch for 2021. In 2022, NRO is scheduled to start the year with two launches from New Zealand in January and February, NROL-162 and NROL-199. Also in February, NROL-87 is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base. Three additional NRO missions are planned for later in 2022.

“NRO is the best in the world at delivering space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to more than 500,000 government users working together to keep America safe,” said NRO director Dr. Christopher Scolese. “NROL-111 is the 16th payload we put on orbit in 18 months to advance our mission of providing critical information to every member of the Intelligence Community, two dozen domestic agencies, our nation’s military, lawmakers, and decision makers.”

The Minotaur I is a four-staged solid fuel space launch vehicle, featuring two decommissioned Minuteman rocket motors, Northrop Grumman-manufactured Orion 50XL and Orion 38 solid rocket motors, and the company’s avionics. The vehicle is capable of launching payloads of up to 1,278 pounds (or 580 kilograms) into low Earth orbit.

“This was our second launch of a Minotaur rocket for the NRO from Wallops in the past 12 months,” said Rich Straka, vice president, launch vehicles, Northrop Grumman. “Northrop Grumman is able to repurpose retired Peacekeeper and Minuteman propulsion, integrating them with company built solid rocket motors along with new subsystems for our Minotaur family of launch vehicles, allowing us to provide reliable, cost-effective and responsive access to space for our customers.”

The NROL-111 launch was the 12th Minotaur I flight and 6th from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The Minotaur family of launch vehicles is comprised of multiple configurations, tailored to meet unique mission requirements. The Minotaur fleet has now completed 28 missions from ranges in Alaska, California, Florida and Virginia. Minotaur rockets are manufactured at facilities in Chandler, Arizona; Vandenberg, California; and Clearfield and Magna, Utah.

The vehicle used to launch the NROL-111 mission was procured under the OSP-3 contract administered by the US Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.