WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on June 28 launched the NROL-186 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office.

The rocket lifted off at 11:14 p.m. Eastern from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.

NROL-186 was the second batch of satellites of a new imaging satellite constellation built by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman. The number of satellites was not disclosed. 

Just over eight minutes after liftoff, the first-stage booster landed on a drone ship, marking the company’s 326th booster landing to date.

The NRO designs and operates classified U.S. government surveillance and intelligence satellites. Just over a month ago SpaceX launched the first batch of the agency’s proliferated constellation in low Earth orbit.

This shows the “persistent pace of deployment that is expected with this program,” Chris Scolese, director of the NRO, said June 29 in a statement. 

“Our new, proliferated systems enhance our ability to collect and deliver critical information,” he said. 

Approximately half a dozen launches supporting NRO’s proliferated architecture are planned for 2024, with additional launches expected through 2028.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...