Fourth US Liftoff for Rocket Lab: Mysterious Spy Satellites Launched

Fourth US Liftoff for Rocket Lab: Mysterious Spy Satellites Launched

On Thursday morning, March 21, Rocket Lab conducted its fourth-ever American launch, delivering unidentified payloads to space for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) of the United States.

At 3:25 a.m. EDT (0725 GMT) on Thursday, Rocket Lab’s NROL-123 mission, also known as “Live and Let Fly,” blasted off from the company’s Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Similar to all 45 of Rocket Lab’s orbital missions conducted thus far, NROL-123 made use of Electron, a two-stage, 59-foot-tall (18-meter) rocket designed to provide dedicated space travel for tiny satellites. (The business has not yet conducted a test flight of its larger launch vehicle, Neutron.)

NROL-123 sent three research missions into space, Rocket Lab officials announced on Thursday during the company’s debut.

About the payloads, that’s about all the information we have. The lack of information is hardly shocking considering that the NRO, which constructs and manages the US network of espionage satellites, typically keeps quiet regarding the makeup and operations of these aircraft.

Nonetheless, Rocket Lab was given the NROL-123 mission by the NRO through a Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract. In a mission description, Rocket Lab officials stated that “RASR enables the NRO to explore new opportunities for launching small satellites through a streamlined, commercial approach.”

Rocket Lab launched its sixth mission for the NRO, NROL-123. The remaining four took out from the North Island of New Zealand’s Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) owned by the firm.

The great majority of Rocket Lab’s orbital launches to date—42 out of 46, to be exact—have taken place on LC-1. From LC-2, which had its first Electron launch in January 2023, the other four have taken off.

Rocket Lab is attempting to make the first stage of the Electron reusable; on several prior missions, the business has retrieved boosters from the ocean, and it has even managed to successfully reflow an engine. However, it appears that NROL-123 did not include any recuperation exercises; this was not included in the launch webcast or the press package.

Sanchita Patil

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