A new U.S. spy satellite launched March 11 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Station aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket. Liftoff occurred about 6:38 p.m. EST. High-altitude winds above the Cape’s Launch Complex 37 delayed the satellite’s launch by nearly a half-hour, but cleared in time for a twilight blastoff.

Denver-based United Launch Alliance (ULA) conducted the launch on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the Chantilly, Va.-based federal agency responsible for the design, construction and operation of the country’s network of intelligence-gathering spy satellites.

“This mission helps ensure that crucial NRO resources will continue to strengthen our national defense,” U.S. Air Force Col. James Ross, 45th Space Wing vice commander, said in a statement.

Due to the classified nature of the mission, which is formally known as NROL-27, very few additional details about the launch or the satellite’s purpose are publicly released. The mission went into a media blackout shortly after its successful liftoff.

“Congratulations to the NRO and to all the mission partners involved in this critical national security launch,” Jim Sponnick, ULA’s vice president of mission operations, said in a statement. “Our launch team understands the importance that these missions play in protecting our freedoms and supporting our brave men and women deployed around the world.”

The liftoff occurred less than a week after the U.S. Air Force launched its second secret X-37B space plane. That spacecraft lifted off on March 5 atop an Atlas 5 rocket, also provided by ULA.

NROL-27 was the fifth NRO-sponsored launch since September.

“We have had an amazing five successful launches in the past 12 months, two in 2010 and three this year. I am looking forward to the launch of NROL-34 in April, which will conclude our most aggressive launch schedule in over two decades,” Air Force Col. Alan Davis, director of the NRO’s Office of Space Launch, after the successful liftoff.

The sixth NRO satellite is slated to launch April 12 on an Atlas 5 rocket out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NROL-27 was the third launch of the year for United Launch Alliance, and the 16th flight of the Delta 4 family of rockets.



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