Virginia Celebrates Successful Rocket Launch from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

Minotaur I rocket will carry classified payload for National Reconnaissance Office

RICHMOND—The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space), the United States Space Force (USSF), and Northrop Grumman celebrate the successful launch of a Minotaur I rocket carrying a national security payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The mission, named NROL-111, launched today at 9:35 a.m. EDT from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0B located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

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 the one launched today, 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 attract diverse customers and support a wide range of missions, ensuring that Virginia remains a key gateway to space for decades to come,” said Governor Northam. “Today’s successful launch is another strong indication that Virginia Space is poised to capitalize on the recent exponential growth of the aerospace industry and contribute tremendous scientific and economic benefits to our Commonwealth and country.”

“The National Reconnaissance Office’s second successful dedicated launch from Wallops is a reflection of the industry’s recognition of this national strategic asset,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “The Commonwealth is proud to work together with our government and commercial partners to help shape the future of space exploration.”

Launch services for this mission were provided by the USSF Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Program. This launch marks the third small launch USSF mission and the NRO’s second dedicated launch from Wallops over the last year. Today’s launch is dedicated to the memory of Captain Kevin “Jack” Steuterman, whose loss is felt by the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Innovation and Prototyping Directorate and the Small Launch and Targets Division. An officer, program manager, friend, and son, Jack devoted eight years of unbounded leadership and service to the United States Air Force and is remembered for his many contributions to the Space Force’s Launch Enterprise and the Air Force’s conventional munitions enterprise.

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. Since 1961, the NRO has pushed the envelope of space-based intelligence collection by the United States. NROL-111 will strengthen NRO’s ability to provide a wide-range of timely intelligence information to national decision-makers, warfighters, and intelligence analysts to protect the nation’s vital interests and support humanitarian efforts worldwide.

NROL-111 is the third USSF mission from Wallops Flight Facility and the NRO’s second dedicated launch from Wallops Island. The 69-foot-tall Minotaur I launch vehicle consists of two solid-fueled motors from decommissioned Minuteman ICBMs as the lower stages and two solid-fueled commercial solid rocket motors as upper stages. The Minotaur I rocket features both the NROL-111 mission logo and the NRO’s 60th anniversary logo.

“Being able to strengthen Virginia Space’s partnerships with the NRO and Space Force is such an exciting opportunity,” said Dale Nash, CEO and Executive Director of Virginia Space. “It’s such a privilege to have our facilities called upon, and today’s successful launch demonstrates once again what our spaceport has to offer.”

The history of Minotaur rocket launches from Wallops spans 15 years. Today’s launch from Pad 0B is the second launch from this recently upgraded pad since 2013, following a successful launch of a Minotaur IV rocket last July. The previous two launches from Pad 0B were a Minotaur I 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.

Virginia Space is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the MARS Unmanned Systems Test Range, the MARS Payload Processing Facility, and an Integration and Control Facility in Wallops Research Park, all located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The mission of Virginia Space and MARS is to provide low-cost, safe, and reliable launch services for “schedule-friendly” access to space and secure facilities for testing of unmanned vehicles for integration into the National Airspace System. 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 to launch spacecraft into orbit or on interplanetary trajectories. For more information, visit vaspace.org.

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