Northrop’s Minotaur I rocket successfully launches NRO payloads into orbit
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Northrop’s Minotaur I rocket successfully launches NRO payloads into orbit

16 Jun 2021 (Last Updated June 16th, 2021 12:46)

Minotaur fleet has recorded 100% success in all 28 missions from different ranges in the US.

Northrop’s Minotaur I rocket successfully launches NRO payloads into orbit
Northrop Grumman Minotaur I rocket carrying three national security payloads for the NRO launched. Credit: Nasa Wallops / Allison Stancil.

The US National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO) three national security payloads have launched on board Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur I rocket.

The rocket was launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0B on Wallops Island on 15 June.

The NRO is the Intelligence Community element and a US DoD agency established for developing, acquiring, launching, as well as operating US intelligence satellites to meet national security needs.

Northrop noted that Minotaur I is a four-staged solid fuel space launch vehicle. It can launch payloads of up to 580kg into low-Earth orbit (LEO) and features advanced avionics.

The 69ft-tall Minotaur I launch vehicle comprises two solid-fuelled motors from decommissioned Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as the lower stages.

The launch vehicle consists of two solid-fuelled commercial solid rocket motors as upper stages.

Named as ‘NROL-111’, the latest mission was the 12th Minotaur I mission and sixth from Nasa’s Wallops flight facility.

The Minotaur family of launch vehicles consists of multiple configurations, customised to meet ‘unique mission requirements’.

Northrop’s Minotaur rockets are produced at facilities in the US states of Arizona, California and Utah.

Northrop Grumman launch vehicles vice-president Rich Straka said: “This was our second launch of a Minotaur rocket for the NRO from Wallops in the past 12 months.

“Northrop Grumman is able to repurpose retired Peacekeeper and Minuteman propulsion, integrating them with company-built solid rocket motors along with new subsystems for our Minotaur family of launch vehicles, allowing us to provide reliable, cost-effective and responsive access to space for our customers.”

Northrop said that the vehicle used to launch the NROL-111 mission was procured under the Opportunity for Orbital Services Program-3 (OSP-3) contract administered by the USSF’s Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland AFB.

Currently, Minotaur vehicles are available to customers under the OSP-4 multi-vendor deal.