It took five tries, scrubbed x3 for bad weather and once for a technical issue, but ULA finally got the classified NROL-52 payload off the ground and into space, launching atop an Atlas-V rocket from SLC-41 on Cape Canaveral AFS, FL at 3:28 a.m. EDT.
“Today’s launch is a testament to the tireless dedication of the ULA team, demonstrating why ULA continues to serve as our nation’s most dependable and successful launch provider,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Government Satellite Launch. “After recovering from Hurricane Irma that came through the area last month, and the last week’s weather challenges, the team found the right opportunity today to deliver this critical national asset to orbit.”
WATCH NROL-52 Launch from our remote pad cameras
Credit: Jeff Seibert / AmericaSpace
The mission marked ULA’s 7th launch in 2017 and the 122nd successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.
“I want to thank the entire ULA team and our mission partners at the NRO and U.S. Air Force who made this, our 26th NRO launch, successful,” said Maginnis.
Sources tell AmericaSpace the payload is likely a geosynchronous orbit “Quasar” data relay spacecraft that will relay real time images from low altitude reconnaissance satellites, like advanced versions of KH-11 digital imaging spacecraft, back to ground stations like the major NRO ground station at Ft. Belvoir, Va., just outside of Washington D.C.
Quasar spacecraft are the key U.S. assets used to maintain global real time coverage from NRO intelligence and reconnaissance spacecraft no matter where over Earth they are operating.
The Quasar model was developed initially in the late 1970s by the U. S. Air Force Satellite Data System (SDS) program.
According to the highly respected Gunter Krebs’ Gunter’s Space Page, Quasar spacecraft are also used “for communications with USAF aircraft on polar routes and also to connect the various ground stations of the Air Force Satellite Control Network.”
Next up for ULA is launch of the next generation Joint Polar Satellite System-1 for NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scheduled for liftoff NET Nov. 10 at 1:47 a.m. PST from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA atop a Delta II rocket.