Rocket Lab has delivered another spacecraft into orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which operates the nation’s fleet of spy satellites.
A Rocket Lab Electron booster atop the NROL-162 spacecraft was lifted from the company’s New Zealand site at 2:30 p.m. EDT (0630 GMT; 6:30 p.m. New Zealand time) on Wednesday, July 13.
About an hour later, Electron’s “kick stage” placed NROL-162 into Earth orbit as planned; Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab confirmed via Twitter that the satellite had launched its mysterious mission.
“NROL-162 will strengthen NRO’s ability to provide a wide range of timely intelligence information to national decision-makers and intelligence analysts to protect vital United States interests and support humanitarian efforts worldwide,” Rocket Lab said in Wednesday’s mission statement. You can find it here.
NROL-162 is the joint effort of the NRO and the Australian Department of Defense (AUS DoD). If all goes according to plan, Rocket Lab will soon launch another mission developed by these two organizations; NROL-199 is scheduled to take off aboard an Electron from New Zealand as early as July 23.
“The NROL-162 and 199 missions are the latest examples of NRO’s commitment to improving relationships with U.S. allies and partners, and demonstrate NRO’s ability to launch multiple rockets in succession from overseas locations,” said the Rocket Lab mission statement.
Flight NROL-162, which Rocket Lab calls “The Wise One Looks Ahead,” was the latest in a series of national security missions the company had launched for the U.S. government. For example, in January 2020, an Electron launched NRO’s classified NROL-151 satellite. And in June of that year, Rocket Lab quietly lifted three more payloads for the spy agency.
“Wise One Looks Ahead” was the 28th launch for Electron, a 58-foot (19-meter) rocket designed to give small satellites extraordinary journeys into Earth orbit. The Electron has two main stages and a slight kick stage that delivers customer payloads to precise orbital targets.