NASA Rocket Carrying Classified Payload Successfully Launches From Virginia Facility

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) successfully launched a rocket carrying a national security payload from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Tuesday.

The launch was delayed a few hours due to weather, NASA reported. However, it officially left the ground at 9:35 a.m. EDT.

The Minotaur I rocket was carrying "three national security payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office," according to NASA. The mission, named NROL-111, is "to provide intelligence data to United States' senior policymakers, the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense," said a press release from the NRO.

Here’s a replay of the Minotaur 1 launching on the NROL-111 mission at 9:35am EDT (1335 GMT) from Wallops Island, Virginia.

This marks the 12th launch of a Minotaur 1 rocket powered by surplus Minuteman missile stages.

— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) June 15, 2021

"NROL-111 was a classified mission in low Earth orbit and the NRO did not disclose any details of the payloads," according to Space News.

The NRO press release read: "The NRO uses a variety of satellites to meet these mission needs—from small sats to more traditional satellites."

It added that the payloads are "designed to provide global coverage against a wide range of intelligence requirements, carry out research and development efforts, and assist emergency and disaster relief efforts in the U.S. and around the world."

Minotaur I is the second rocket in the NROL-111 launched from Wallops in the last 12 months. The rocket was built and operated by Northrop Grumman, a multinational aerospace and technology company.

"Wallops was pleased to partner with NRO, USSF, Virginia Space and Northrop Grumman in the successful launch today of the Minotaur 1 rocket on this national security mission," Wallops Director David Pierce told NASA's Newsroom. "This launch builds on the partnership developed during the past year with other successful missions."

We hope you didn’t blink! 😳

A @northropgrumman #Minotaur I rocket carrying three national security payloads for the @NatReconOfc launched at 9:35 a.m. EDT.

Did you see the rocket? Share your photos with us below!

— NASA Wallops (@NASA_Wallops) June 15, 2021

Last July, a Minotaur IV rocket launched mission NROL-129, which was the NRO's first dedicated launch from Wallops, although Minotaur rockets have been launched from the Wallops facility for 15 years, NASA reported.

Col. Chad Davis, director of NRO's Office of Space Launch, said, according to NASA, "Our mission is exciting because we deliver exquisite intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities on-orbit for our national and allied warfighters as well as our national decision-makers."

Newsweek received the following press statement from Northrop Grumman: "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."

According to Northrop Grumman's website, Minotaur I has conducted 11 missions with a 100 percent success rate, carrying a total of 62 satellites into orbit.

"The eyes and the ears for the defense of this nation and critical capabilities for our warfighters are delivered on the launch vehicles that we process within the launch enterprise," Col. Ryan Rose said on June 10 during a press briefing for the mission before launch.

Many on the East Coast could see the rocket overhead, and NASA reported that another launch from Wallops will be a "NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital-sounding rocket carrying the RockOn! educational payload," expected to launch on Thursday, June 24.

Newsweek reached out to NASA for additional comment.

Northrop Grumman Antares CRS-13 Launch
The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A on February 15, 2020 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wattsville, Virginia. A Northrop Grumman rocket launched on June 15 from Wallops Facility carrying three national security payloads. Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via Getty Images