In a move that marks the commencement of a secret mission for testing new ways to collect intelligence from space, a Minotaur 1 rocket carrying a national security payload took off successfully from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch took place at 4:26 a. m. local time on Sunday.
Swiftly climbing into the predawn sky, the six-story rocket shed its powerful first stage a minute after the launch. Its second stage burned for another minute to propel the rocket to a height of almost 400,000 feet.
The rocket’s payload, which reportedly is for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), is also called RPP - short for Rapid Pathfinder Program; and will chiefly test space spy technology. The mission goes by the codename NROL-66 in the agency's rocket acquisition naming system.
Noting that the mission “is just one example of our ability to rapidly build and launch small spacecraft with on-orbit capabilities that increase the value of NRO systems to our nation's future,” Robert Brodowski, director of the advanced science and technology directorate at NRO, commended all the people who made the recent launch possible.
Disclosing that the payload will demonstrate better ways for US government satellites to gather intelligence, an NRO spokesperson Rick Oborn said: “This particular payload carries some of the work we do in techniques and methods to improve intelligence collection. All part of our work to keep improving the value of our data.”