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NRO satellites launched from NASA’s Virginia facility

July 15 (UPI) — The first launch on Wednesday morning of a Minotaur IV rocket from Wallops Island, Va., was a success, the Air Force announced.

Northrop Grumman launched four classified remote sensing payloads into low earth orbit Wednesday at 9:46 a.m. for the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency’s first use of the Minotaur IV, officials said in a press release.

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The mission was called NROL-129, and no information regarding its payload was released.

The four-stage rocket can place payloads of up to 3,800 pounds into orbit, using the first three stages of the decommissioned Peacekeeper missile and a specially-designed upper stage.

It was the first use of the rocket by NASA’s Wallops Island facility in eastern Virginia, formally called the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, and the NRO’s 54th launch, since 1996. The launch was also the first U.S. Space Force launch from Wallops Island.

The NRO has reserved two more Minotaur launches from Virginia, designated NROL-111 and NROL-174, in 2021, Kurt Eberly of Grumman said. He added that the rockets can be quickly assembled and launched, fitting the NRO’s “rapid response.”

Since the rocket uses solid propellant, it requires no ready availability of liquid fuel and can be launched from remote and austere sites. Thus far it has been launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base,Calif.; Kodiak Island, Alaska; Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and now Wallops Island.

“We think there’s a real niche for the Minotaur and Pegasus solid rockets for DoD and intelligence agency customers,” said Eberly, a reference Northrop Grumman’s air-launched Pegasus rocket.

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