A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launches a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office in 2012. Credit: ULA/Pat Corkery

WASHINGTON — A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket successfully launched a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) June 20 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., the spy satellite agency announced.

The NROL-38 mission was the second of four planned NRO launches during the next five months, two from Cape Canaveral and two from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the NRO said. In the next mission, dubbed NROL-15 and scheduled for late June, a ULA Delta 4 Heavy rocket will loft a classified payload from Cape Canaveral.

In a press release, Denver-based ULA said the launch was the 50th under the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, which developed the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets that carry the vast majority of U.S. government satellites into orbit. As prime contractor on the program, ULA, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, builds and operates both vehicles.

The Atlas 5 has flown 31 missions to date, with the Delta 4 accounting for the rest. Twelve of these missions have been conducted on behalf of the NRO, Bruce Carlson, the agency’s outgoing director, said in a prepared statement.



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Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...