United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully launched a national security payload from the Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in support of national defence.

The Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) 421 configuration vehicle carrying NROL-61 payload was launched from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 on Thursday for the US intelligence agency that maintains American intelligence satellites.

The rocket was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine.

The launch is ULA’s sixth launch this year and also marks the sixth Atlas V to launch in the 421 configuration.

ULA custom services vice-president Laura Maginnis said: “We are proud the US Air Force and NRO Office of Space Launch have entrusted ULA with delivering this critical asset for our nation’s security.

“Our continued one launch at a time focus and exceptional teamwork make launches like today’s successful.”  

Aerojet Rocketdyne has supported the mission by providing two AJ-60A Solid Rocket Boosters, the RL10C-1 upper-stage engine, six helium pressurisation tanks and a dozen Centaur upper-stage reaction control thrusters (RCS).

AJ-60A boosters provided additional thrust to the rocket during launch.

"Our continued one launch at a time focus and exceptional teamwork make launches like today’s successful."

Using cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants, Aerojet's RL10C-1 engine delivers 22,890lb of thrust to power the Atlas V Centaur upper stage.

Aerojet Rocketdyne president and CEO Eileen Drake said: “Our nation’s troops and allied forces depend on these national-security satellites to help keep them safe.”

The US Air Force's EELV programme provides access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads.

Image: The Atlas V launching. Photo: courtesy of NASA / Tom Farrar, Kevin O'Connell.