ULA to Launch NROL-42 'Trumpet' Eavesdropping Satellite from Vandenberg Thursday

NROL-42 Mission Patch. Credit: NRO

ULA is all systems GO for a launch attempt tomorrow night, Sep 21, from Vandenberg AFB, CA with a classified surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), after completing a launch readiness review earlier today.

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Liftoff is scheduled for 10:38 p.m. PDT atop an Atlas-V ‘541’ rocket from Space Launch Complex-3, and should put on quite a show for the west coast United States. Weather forecasts from USAF meteorologists are 60% favorable, with the main concerns being launch visibility and ground winds.

“This launch is the culmination of many months of work byULA, the NRO and the 30th Space Wing,” said Col. Gregory Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, who will be the launch decision authority. “All of Team Vandenberg is dedicated to mission success and proud to play a part in delivering these capabilities to our nation.”

As with all NRO missions, the nature of the payload is highly classified, but several military space experts agree NRO-42 is likely a large “Trumpet” electronic eavesdropping satellite headed for a high latitude “Molniya” type orbit.

It carries very large eavesdropping antennas and likely also a piggyback missile launch detection instrument for the U.S. Air Force Space Based Infrared (SBIRS) System program.

“This launch is a prime example of teamwork by multiple organizations that have worked around the clock to assure mission safety and security,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Decker, 4th Space Launch Squadron commander. “Given the dedication of the men and women have worked to ensure readiness of the launch vehicle and payload, we’re on track for a successful launch.”

NRO42 marks the second third generation Trumpet. The first of this advanced version of the satellite is NRO 35, launched on Dec. 13, 2014.

The mission patch is of a Polar Bear to depict the “Great Bear” constellation indicative of high latitude star fields.

The launch will mark ULA’s sixth of 2017 and 121st overall, and the 25th mission ULA will have flown for the NRO.

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