Last Friday (13), the Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched a top secret cargo from the National Reconnaissance Office (NROL), which was put into orbit after a series of delays in the mission due to problems technical conditions and bad weather conditions at the takeoff site.
Initially scheduled to take off on November 3, from Cape Canaveral, Florida (United States), the NROL-101 mission had its first problem, with the air conditioning system that cools the spy satellite, detected by the ULA team on the date .
The next day, the new schedule had to be postponed yet again because of a failure in the rocket supply system. With the bug fixed, the takeoff started to depend on the climatic conditions of the region, affected by the tropical storm Eta, which intensified from the 9th, but lost strength and allowed the launch of the NROL-101 on the 13th.
This was ULA’s fifth launch in 2020 and the 86th flight of the Atlas V since its debut in 2002, being the first with the new solid GEM 63 rocket engines, manufactured by Northrop Grumman. In addition to other military cargo, the company was also responsible for the takeoff of NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover mission, which is due to arrive on Mars in February next year.
Responsible for managing the US government’s spy satellite fleet, NROL does not usually provide details regarding its cargo launched into space. This was no different from the most recent mission.
But according to Space.com, the alerts issued to pilots and sailors suggest that the Atlas V would follow a route northeast of Cape Canaveral, to place the spy satellite in a high-tilt orbit. In this region, the spacecraft would have regular views of Russia and other areas of the northern hemisphere.
Satellites like this one are used by NROL as “eyes in the sky”, serving to provide real and radar images of the Earth from space. They also make it possible to send and intercept secure communication to various intelligence agencies.