Long-delayed NRO Satellite Launched from Vandenberg

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WASHINGTON — A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket successfully launched a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Sept. 13 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., after a delay of more than a month, the company announced.

The NROL-36 mission was originally scheduled for Aug. 2 but had to be postponed due to a malfunction of launch monitoring data displays, according to U.S. Air Force Col. David Hook, commander of the 30th Operations Group at Vandenberg. Service officials took weeks to identify the problem and make sure they understood it before declaring the range ready to support the mission, he said.

The problem was with the new Mission Flight Control Center delivered to Vandenberg in January, Hook said in a Sept. 10 interview. Officials were initializing the system when a computer became overloaded and prevented screens from coming up for the displays, Hook said.

The control center, developed by Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems of Santa Maria, Calif., manages launches to ensure the protection of life and property near the launch site.

Meanwhile, the NRO utilized excess capacity on the Atlas 5 to make NROL-36 the agency’s first rideshare mission. Eleven cubesats — cube-shaped satellites that measure 10 centimeters on each side — intended to demonstrate new technology accompanied the primary satellite to orbit, the NRO said in a July 30 press release. The launch will pave the way for future NRO rideshares, the agency.