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Mystery in the sky: Rocket Lab launches US ‘spy’ satellite from Virginia

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NEW DELHI: In an early morning spectacle, Rocket Lab successfully executed its fourth launch from American soil on Thursday, March 21, propelling undisclosed payloads for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) into space. The mission, dubbed “Live and Let Fly,” saw its lift-off from Launch Complex 2 at Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 3:25am EDT.
Rocket Lab’s workhorse, the Electron rocket, stood at the helm of the NROL-123 mission. Standing 59 feet tall, this two-stage launcher is renowned for providing dedicated rides for small satellites into orbit. The mission also highlighted the anticipation surrounding Rocket Lab’s larger Neutron vehicle, which is still awaiting its maiden voyage, a Space.com report said.
“NROL-123 sent three research missions skyward,” said Rocket Lab representatives during the launch webcast, shrouding the nature of the payloads in typical NRO secrecy. The NRO, responsible for the US array of spy satellites, traditionally keeps details under wraps concerning its spacecraft’s missions and capabilities.
Secured through a Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract, NROL-123 exemplifies the NRO’s ongoing strategy to deploy small satellites swiftly using commercial launch solutions. Rocket Lab, a significant player in this arena, has previously launched four missions for the NRO, all from its New Zealand base, making NROL-123 its fifth collaboration with the intelligence agency.
Approximately an hour after departure from Earth’s surface, the payloads were successfully deployed into orbit, marking another successful clandestine operation for Rocket Lab and the NRO. However, in line with the secretive nature of the mission, Rocket Lab concluded its live broadcast shortly after lift-off, ceasing transmission less than 11 minutes into the flight, likely adhering to NRO’s confidentiality requirements, the Space.com report said.
Rocket Lab’s endeavors extend beyond just launching satellites. The company is advancing towards making the first stage of the Electron rocket reusable, aiming to recover boosters from the sea post-mission. While several past missions have seen booster recovery attempts, the NROL-123 flight did not partake in any such activities, with no recovery efforts mentioned in the mission’s press materials or during the live stream.
The successful completion of the NROL-123 mission underscores Rocket Lab’s growing significance in the realm of commercial space launches and its pivotal role in the rapid deployment of national security assets. As the company continues to expand its launch capabilities from American soil, the global space community keenly watches this innovative enterprise unfold.

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