Post Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:47 am

2011 continues with another military launch

A new military launch took place on Sunday, February 6th from the hangar no.8 of the Vandenberg airbase. The satellite which was launched this time is called Rapid Pathfinder Program and is owned by the NRO-National Reconnaissance Office American agency. The satellite is named NROL66 in the NRO’ s nomenclature.
The launch comes just two weeks after the previous launch on January 20th -a launch which SpaceAlliance reported at that time.

The official operational name of the new satellite will be USA225. Despite the fact that no public information was given, it’s known that the new satellite will be a small size spy satellite, launched by the smallest launcher of the American agency, Minotaur 1.

The orbit from which it will operate will be a SSO (Sun-Synchronous orbit) or a polar one.
The launching, which was initially scheduled on Saturday, February 5th, was postponed due to ground equipment technical issues. Finally the launch took place at 12: 26 UTC.

The orbital transfer sequence was short (near to 12 minutes), typical for the launcher. Minotaur 1 is a 4 stages rocket with the ability to carry a load up to 550 kilograms in a LEO orbit. It was converted by Orbital Sciences Corporation operator from the old Minuteman 2 ballistic missiles that were operated by the U.S. Army between 1964 and 1987. The first stage of the rocket is powered by a M55E1 engine, the second one by a SR19AJ1, the third by an Orion50XL and the last stage is powered by an Orion38 engine.

Orbital owns 3 other launchers: the second and third Minotaur series – 3 stage rockets used for suborbital test-flights and the fourth series, which has recently been introduced in operation for LEO orbit flights. The test-flight of this one took place on November 2010.

They are also designing a fifth series launcher, a commercial one, which will be capable of overcoming the LEO orbit border. If all goes according to plan, it will come into operation in 2013 when it will launch the LADEE platform owned by NASA.

NRO operates the Minotaur1 rocket- a much smaller one than the usual Delta 4 and Atlas 5 launchers. The operating centers of NRO are 4 facilities in total: Cape Canaveral, Kodiak Island, Vandenberg and Wallops Island. To this date, eight other launches have been made.
The next launch of a Minotaur 1 rocket will most likely occur in April when the on board passenger will be ORS1 or the Operationally Responsive Space Satellite 1, the first satellite of the new ORS program developed by the U.S. Army.

Last year, the NRO agency, under the jurisdiction of the Defense Department, had a budget of almost $15 billion, which is 19% of the total budget of $ 80 billion allocated to the U.S. intelligence agencies.

Credit to NRO