Spaceflight Now Home



The Mission




Rocket: Atlas 5
Payload: NROL-34
Date: April 14, 2011
Time: 9:24 p.m. local
Site: SLC-3E, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Feed: AMC 1, C-band, Transp. 15, 103° West

Mission Status Center

Photos: Pre-launch shots

Photos: L-1 day

Photos: Gantry rollback

Photos: Launch gallery

Photos: More launch

Photos: Air Force shots

Our Atlas archive






Observers confirm identity of last week's Atlas payload
BY JUSTIN RAY
SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Posted: April 18, 2011


Bookmark and Share

The National Reconnaissance Office has successfully deployed vital replacement spacecraft over the past seven months to rejuvenate nearly all of its satellite constellations, most recently putting an ocean surveillance duo into orbit last week.


An NRO poster marks all six launches over the past seven months with the mission patches. Credit: NRO
 
While celebrating its 50th anniversary, the secretive government agency responsible for designing and operating the U.S. fleet of spy satellites conducted this remarkable launch surge in a tightly packed timeframe using Atlas 5, Delta 4-Medium and -Heavy rockets, plus the light Minotaur 1 vehicle.

Beginning on Sept. 20, an Atlas-501 rocket roared from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying the first in a new-generation of radar imaging satellites that follow the heritage Lacrosse program.

Next came the "largest satellite in the world" atop a Delta 4-Heavy rocket on Nov. 21 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This eavesdropping bird has a gigantic antenna for gathering signals intelligence.

Another Delta 4-Heavy rocket, this time launching from Vandenberg, flew on Jan. 20 with the crucial new Keyhole spacecraft for the nation's sophisticated electro-optical imaging system.

An experimental research and development payload for the Rapid Pathfinder Program was shot into space by the Minotaur 1 on Feb. 6 from Vandenberg.

Then, a Delta 4-Medium+4,2 launcher with a Satellite Data System bird to relay communications between the reconnaissance spacecraft and ground stations was sent aloft from Florida on March 11.

The capper occurred last Thursday when two satellites were launched together atop an Atlas 5-411 rocket from Vandenberg to refresh the Naval Ocean Surveillance System, or NOSS. Satellite-tracking hobbyists reported spotting the formation-flying craft and confirmed them with further observations Monday night.

"NOSS satellites track ships at sea through their radio transmissions. The first two generations, launched between 1976 and 1996, consisted of several triplets that orbited in close formation. Analysis of the difference in time of arrival of a signal at each member of a triplet enabled determination of the location of the source. Third generation NOSS accomplish the same using pairs of satellites," said Ted Molczan, a satellite-tracking hobbyist.

Thursday's launch was the fifth for this current breed of NOSS featuring satellite duos instead of the previous trio arrangement. Atlas rockets have deployed this generation over the past decade beginning with two missions from Vandenberg that went up in 2001 and 2003 aboard Atlas 2AS vehicles, then two flights from Cape Canaveral that flew on the Atlas 3B in 2005 and an Atlas 5 in 2007.

STS-134 Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Final Shuttle Mission Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Apollo Collage
This beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.
 U.S. STORE

STS-133 Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Anniversary Shuttle Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Mercury anniversary

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!


Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

INDEX | PLUS | NEWS ARCHIVE | LAUNCH SCHEDULE
ASTRONOMY NOW | STORE

ADVERTISE

© 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.