NASA and Northrop Grumman to launch NROL-129 [live stream]

Northrop Grumman, in partnership with NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the Mid-Atlantic Spaceport MARS are set an ready for today’s launch of the NROL-129 mission atop a Minotaur IV rocket.

The weather was a concern, but at the time of publishing, the forecast showed only a 10% chance of low clouds. The launch window couldn’t be confirmed ahead of time, as is standard practice with other launches.

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Photo taken during the flight readiness review for NROL-129 mission for National Reconnaissance Office on Monday 13 July 2020. Image via Twitter: @DefPost

Due to the “secure nature of the NRO mission, payload and flight path”, staff were unable to provide information, other than stating the luanch is set to take place from Wallops Island Launch Pad 0B at 9:00 ET, or 15:00 SAST.

NASA and Northrop Grumman NROL-129 mission

SpaceFlight Insider managed to snag an exclusive pre-launch interview with Northrop Grumman’s Kurt Eberly, Director, Small and Medium Space Launch. Eberly confirmed that the NROL-129 mission is the first to fly from the new processing facility on Wallops Island.

Northrop Grumman nasa launch
Image via Twitter: @NatReconOfc

“It’s a really great facility, right here on Wallops Island. It has several high bays, has a clean room, has fueling capability, has classified processing capabilities – [Virginia Space] has really brought a lot of new capability to the Wallops range, by collaborating with the NRO and developing this new payload processing facility”.

In addition, it was confirmed that the NROL-129 Minotaur is also the first 100% NRO-dedicated mission to fly from Wallops Island. Eberly has been involved with rocket launches since the early 1990s, and shared background information about the vehicle that will carry the payload: the Minotaur IV.

Watch: NASA Wallops live stream

Minotaur IV factsheet

As reported by SpaceFlight Insider, the “Minotaur family of rockets make use of surplus rocket motors which were retired from prior military programs as a result of various treaties and changes in the defense landscape”.

“In the case of NROL-129’s Minotaur IV, the first three (of four) stages are former Peacekeeper missile system components, which would have been cast and cured in Utah between 1988 and 1990; the fourth stage is powered by an Orion 38 (38-inch diameter) motor.”

SpaceFlight Insider

nasa northrop grumman
Image via Twitter: @NatReconOfc

Eberly also confirmed that the team is ready for today, saying the “rocket’s ready, the spacecrafts are ready”. He added that a launch readiness review was conducted earlier this week and “all parties brought their status and reported readiness to proceed”.

He commended the various teams involved for staying on track and keeping to the schedule, and assured that precautions have been put in place as per COVID-19 protocols. The teams’ safety remains priority.

Also read — NASA appoints first woman to lead human space flight

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Caption: “Picture day for our Minotaur IV! The Wallops Weather Office is predicting 90% favourable weather for launch July 15 from Pad 0B at Wallops.” / Image via Twitter: @NASA_Wallops

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