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US National Reconnaissance Office launches 2nd spy satellite from New Zealand

NROL-199 launch
Photo: Rocket Lab

The US National Reconnaissance Office launched a second satellite in less than a month from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

NROL-199 launched into orbit on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket on August 4, and is the second of two missions in 2022 deployed in partnership with the Australian Department of Defence (AUS DoD).

The first one, NROL-162, launched from Mahia Peninsula on July 13.

“NRO places high priority on partnerships, and these launches reflect the strength of our relationships with Australia and New Zealand,” said NRO Director Dr. Chris Scolese.

“Not only are we working together to launch these satellites, we will all benefit from the critical data they collect and deliver. This is an opportunity to build a foundation for even greater collaboration in the future.”

The agency noted that the two missions demonstrated NRO’s capability to launch multiple rockets from overseas locations within weeks of one another. The second launch had initially been scheduled for July 22, but necessary software updates and subsequent bad weather delayed what would have been an even quicker launch succession.

NRO worked with New Zealand Space Agency, which licensed the launch, and Rocket Lab as the launch provider.

“NRO has a long legacy of innovation, and launching two missions in less than one month from an overseas location is yet another example of our progress,” said Col. Chad Davis, NRO’s director of the Office of Space Launch. “We are pushing boundaries to ensure we are making the most efficient and effective use of our resources.”

NROL-162 and NROL-199 launch services were acquired using NRO’s Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract. NROL-162 and NROL-199 were NRO’s third and fourth launches from a Rocket Lab Electron rocket and from New Zealand. The previous Electron launches occurred Jan. 31, 2020 with the NROL-151 mission, and June 13, 2020 with the RASR-2 launch.

Often referred to as a “spy agency,” NRO has been responsible for US space-based intelligence information collection since 1961. NROL-162 and 199 will strengthen NRO’s ability to provide a wide-range of timely intelligence information to national decision makers and intelligence analysts to protect the nation’s vital interests and support humanitarian efforts worldwide.