An Atlas 5 rocket from United Launch Alliance lifts off July 28 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: ULA

WASHINGTON — A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office successfully launched July 28 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The launch went into a news blackout typical for NRO missions several minutes after its 8:37 a.m. Eastern liftoff. Almost all missions for the NRO, which buys and operates U.S. spy satellites, are classified, meaning few details are released.

In a July 28 press release, Air Force officials said the mission, known as NROL-61, was successful.

“This successful launch helps to ensure that vital NRO resources will continue to bolster our national defense,” Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing, said in a press release.

The NRO, a federal agency based in Chantilly, Virginia, is responsible for the design, construction and operation of the United States’ network of intelligence-gathering spy satellites. The mission’s mascot was a green bug-eyed lizard named Spike.

The Atlas 5 configuration used in the launch featured a 4-meter payload fairing, two solid-fueled strap-on boosters and a Centaur upper stage powered by a single RL-10 engine.

ULA’s next launch is an Air Force mission known as Air Force Space Command-6, aboard a Delta 4 rocket. That mission is thought to include two high-orbiting space surveillance satellites as part of the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness, or GSSAP, program.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.