Virginia celebrates first mission using new payload processing facility after successful launch
The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, the United States Space Force, and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems celebrate the successful launch of a Minotaur IV rocket carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
The mission, named NROL-129, launched today at 9:46 a.m. EDT Wednesday from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0B located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
This launch marks the first time that Virginia Space’s new Payload Processing Facility (PPF) was used for space vehicle processing and payload integration. The facility, which opened in July 2019, can accommodate national security and classified missions like today’s, opening the door to a variety of customers and payloads. The PPF offers segregated cargo bays to provide both government and commercial businesses the ability to process multiple payloads in a single facility from arrival at Wallops Island to encapsulation.
“The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport continues to serve the aerospace industry as a competitive, state-of-the-art facility,” said Gov. Ralph Northam. “Today’s successful launch is a reflection of the Commonwealth’s ongoing commitment to ensuring Virginia remains a premier leader in space exploration, research, and commerce. With its ability to attract diverse customers and support many types of missions, Virginia Space is well-positioned to play an important part in boosting our economic recovery and sustaining future growth.”
Launch services for this mission were provided by the United States Space Force (USSF) Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Program. NROL-129 is the first USSF mission from Wallops Flight Facility and the National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO) first dedicated launch from Wallops Island.
An integral component of the intelligence community, the NRO is an agency of the United States Department of Defense (DoD) responsible for developing, acquiring, launching, and operating intelligence satellites to satisfy the country’s national security needs.
“The Commonwealth’s investment in the Payload Processing Facility demonstrates our ongoing commitment to maintaining the leadership of Virginia Space in the aerospace industry,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “The National Reconnaissance Office recognizes this national strategic asset and the world-class facilities available to launch a range of critical missions from this gateway to space.”
The 78-foot tall Minotaur IV launch vehicle was built and operated by Northrop Grumman and consists of three solid-fueled motors from decommissioned Peacekeeper ICBMs and a commercial solid rocket upper stage. This mission is the seventh for the Minotaur IV over its 10-year launch history.
Today’s launch from Pad 0B is the first launch from this recently upgraded pad since 2013. The previous two launches from Pad 0B were a Minotaur I rocket in November 2013 in support of the DoD Operationally Responsive Space Office’s ORS-3 mission and a launch of the Lunar Atmosphere Dust and Environment Explorer (LADEE) in September 2013, a robotic mission that orbited the moon collecting data for NASA.
“We are very proud to be part of the NROL-129 team,” said Dale Nash, CEO and Executive Director of Virginia Space. “We consider it an honor to support this vital national security mission with our unparalleled facilities and elite workforce. Virginia Space is also proud to be delivering tangible results on the significant investment that the Commonwealth has made in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.”
The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space) is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Space owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the MARS Payload Processing Facility, and the MARS Unmanned Systems Test Range. Collocated on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, the mission of Virginia Space and MARS is to provide low-cost, safe, reliable, “schedule-friendly” access to space and secure facilities for testing of unmanned vehicles for integration into the National Air Space.
Virginia continues to play a key role in national security and assured access to space, as one of only four states in the United States hosting a spaceport licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch spacecraft into orbit or on interplanetary trajectories.
For more information, visit vaspace.org.