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ULA Launches Classified NROL-101 Mission

By | November 15, 2020

A ULA Atlas V rocket carries the NROL-101 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office on Nov. 13. Photo: ULA

United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on Nov. 13 on an Atlas V launch vehicle. The ULA Atlas V 531 launched the NROL-101 mission from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Friday at 5:32 p.m. ET. The launch was delayed several times. 

“Thank you to our mission partners, the NRO and the United States Space Force for their continued confidence and partnership with ULA,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “This launch was the inaugural launch of our new GEM [Graphite Epoxy Motors] 63 solid rocket motors, an instrumental step for ULA to build flight experience in preparation for the Vulcan Centaur, our next generation launch vehicle.”

This was the NRO’s fourth launch of 2020, following a Northrop Grumman launch in July; Rocket Lab launch in June; and another Rocket Lab launch in January

It was the 86th Atlas V launch and the fourth in the 531 configuration, which has a 5-meter payload fairing and additional thrust provided by three solid rocket boosters. The 531 launched the first three Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites for the U.S. Space Force and will loft a pair of C-band satellites for SES in 2022.

This was ULA’s 29th launch for the NRO. ULA is also set to launch NROL-44 for the NRO on a triple-core Delta IV Heavy. 

In August, ULA and SpaceX were awarded the major National Security Space Launch  (NSSL) service contracts for launch service orders starting in fiscal year 2020 through 2024, with the first missions launching in fiscal year 2022. ULA will receive a contract for approximately 60% of launch services orders and SpaceX will receive a contract for approximately 40% of launch services orders.