First-Generation Spy Satellites From NRO Are Launched by SpaceX

On May 22, a number of unidentified tiny spacecraft were sent into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

At 4:00 a.m. Eastern, the Falcon 9 blasted off from the Californian space force base of Vandenberg.

This was SpaceX’s 52nd flight of the year and the fifth Falcon 9 launch for the NRO. The mission was classified and was designated NROL-146.

The rocket’s first stage, which conducted its 16th flight, separated from the upper stage and landed on a drone ship positioned in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX ended the livestream after the first stage landed, marking the company’s 310th recovery of a first-stage booster, at the NRO’s request to not display images of the rocket’s upper stage.

Secret U.S. government surveillance and intelligence satellites are designed and run by the NRO. The agency’s initial use of a new constellation of imaging satellites developed by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman is known as NROL-146.

The number of satellites launched on this mission and the anticipated size of the new constellation have not been made public by the NRO. Six launches for the NRO’s widely used small satellite design are scheduled for 2024, according to earlier statements from agency officials.

The NRO stated that their goal is to have four times as many satellites in orbit. Smaller, more numerous satellites, according to officials, will enable significantly more frequent revisits to vital regions of interest, resulting in the speedier delivery of vital intelligence.

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