9:35 AM Est Minotaur I launching NROL-111 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility
A minotaur was seen flying high above the coast of Virginia this morning. A Minotaur I rocket that is. The flight, dubbed NROL-111 blasted off from the MARS (Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport) Pad 0B on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 9:35 AM Est today, Tuesday June 15th 2021.
Minotaur I is a four stage rocket which stands at sixty-nine feet tall and will haul three payloads to orbit for the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) Which is of course the agency that governs the nation’s fleet of spy satellites. As with most NRO missons we do not know exactly what type of satellites were launched this morning, but the rocket has the capability of carrying payloads up to 1278 pounds into a low Earth orbit according to Northrop Grumman, who is the maker of the rocket. To date they have launched eleven missions with a 100% success rate. The first stage of this particular rocket was built in 1966 and originally designed to be an ICBM (Intercontential Ballistic Missile). “We are using these decommissioned assets, taxpayer-funded assets, and we’re taking them and we’re able to launch government-sponsored payloads, which to me is actually one of the coolest things about our Minotaur 1 rocket,” said Kelly Fitzpatrick, a Northrop Grumman senior guidance, navigation and control engineer. This is also partly where its name sake comes from as they consist of two solid fueled motors as the lower stages and two solid fueled commercially sold rocket motors as their upper stages.
Today marks the second launch for Northrop Grumman from Wallops this year, and Minotaur rockets have reached the stars from this facility for over a decade now. Earlier this year, in February an Antares rocket with Cygnus spacecraft lifted off full of research and supplies for the International Space Station. Again this is a top secret mission for the U.S. government but Col. Ryan Rose said this during the press briefing days ago about the launch, “The eyes and the ears for the defense of this nation and critical capabilities for our warfighters are delivered on the launch vehicles that we process within the launch enterprise.”