NRO launches NROL-111 from Virginia

Jun 17, 2021 | Daily Space, Rockets, Spacecraft

NRO launches NROL-111 from Virginia
CREDIT: NASA Wallops/Brian Bonsteel

For our last launch of the week, another classified mission. On June 15 at 11:00 UTC, a Northrop Grumman Minotaur 1 rocket launched the NROL-111 mission from Pad 0B at the Mid Atlantic Spaceport Complex in Virginia.

The Minotaur 1 and Pegasus have a few similarities aside from both being launched by Northrop Grumman. They are both small solid-fueled rockets, and Minotaur 1 even borrows the second and third stages from Pegasus as its third and fourth stages.  (The first and second stages are from a decommissioned Minuteman 2 ICBM.) Instead of a plane, the Minotaur 1 is launched from a typical launchpad. It makes quite the show, yeeting off the pad in a bright white-yellow streak with a liftoff thrust to weight ratio of 2.6. This is much faster than typical launch vehicles because of the power of its solid motors.

At liftoff, the yellow thermal conditioning blanket peeled off like a banana. On the pad, it helps keep the first stages at just the right temperature, something that would have normally been done by the missile silo it was designed for. It then hung a huge left and shot towards orbit, breaking Mach 1 in twenty seconds.

Like a typical NRO mission, nothing was said about the payloads except that there were three of them.

More Information

Watch the June 15 Minotaur 1 Launch from Wallops (NASA)

Launch video

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