The most recent launch of the NRO’s NROL-87 program is the culmination of its security-related launch of classified payloads. The agency started publicly disclosing launches back in 1996, and this recent event marked its 60th launch.
The spy satellites were launched into orbit by SpaceX from the Complex 4E at the Vandenberg Space Force Base, west of Los Angeles. The NRO had launched payloads from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket twice before, but this was the first Falcon 9 that was acquired through the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program. This program provides continuous access to space for this type of national security missions and it’s overseen by the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command.
The top-security payload was successfully flown to space, after which the first-stage reusable rocket booster made its way back safely at Vandenberg. “This launch demonstrates our ability to build the best-in-class systems to protect the United States and our allies from threats in and from space,” said the director of NRO’s Office of Space Launch, Col. Chad Davis.
This was the agency’s first launch this year, following eight others that were carried out over the past 24 months. The data collected with the help of these spy satellites are essential for the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and other partners that ensure America’s safety and strength in space.