The United Launch Alliance is getting ready to send one of its Atlas V rockets to space from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The vehicle will launch a classified reconnaissance satellite designed and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office, which is part of the US intelligence program.
The launch is scheduled for 12:50PM ET, according to ULA, and it will be the second one for the company this year. The first one last month brought an infrared surveillance satellite into a high orbit for the US Air Force.
The mission, called NROL-79, is classified. That means that the purpose of the payload atop the Atlas V rocket, as well as its final orbit, are secret. ULA is launching the mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, which is known to develop and operate space-based reconnaissance systems for US intelligence. The NROL-79 could be a pair of Naval Ocean Surveillance Satellite spacecraft used by the US Navy, according to Spaceflight Insider.
The NROL-79 mission was originally scheduled to launch in December, according to Spaceflight Now, but it’s been delayed several times — first by a wildfire that damaged the Vandenberg Air Force Base, and then by some issues found in the Atlas V second stage booster.
Today’s launch will represent the company’s 70th Atlas V launch since the rocket’s debut in 2002 — and all have been successful. ULA’s coverage begins at 12:30PM ET, so check back then to watch the mission live.