Virginia Space launches rocket for first U.S. Space Force mission
Minotaur IV carried classified payload for National Reconnaissance Office
The Minotaur IV rocket, carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), launched its first U.S. Space Force (USSF) mission from the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority’s (Virginia Space) Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Eastern Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday.
“The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport continues to serve the aerospace industry as a competitive, state-of-the-art facility,” Northam said in a statement. “Today’s successful launch is a reflection of the commonwealth’s ongoing commitment to ensuring Virginia remains a premier leader in space exploration, research, and commerce.”
The 78-foot tall rocket was built and operated by Falls Church-based Fortune 100 federal contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. The launch marks the seventh mission for Minotaur IV in 10 years, with the most recent launches in September 2013 for NASA and November 2013 for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The Wednesday launch was the first from the upgraded launch pad.
The Wednesday launch was also the first time that Virginia Space’s new Payload Processing Facility (PPF) was used for space vehicle processing and payload integration. The PPF opened in July 2019 and can be used for national security and classified missions, and includes cargo bays allowing government and commercial businesses to process multiple payloads in one facility.
“With its ability to attract diverse customers and support many types of missions, Virginia Space is well-positioned to play an important part in boosting our economic recovery and sustaining future growth,” Northam said in a statement.
The USSF Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Program provided services for Wednesday’s launch. This was also NRO’s first launch from Wallops Island. The NRO is a defense agency responsible for developing, acquiring, launching and operating intelligence satellites for national security needs.
“We consider it an honor to support this vital national security mission with our unparalleled facilities and elite workforce,” Virginia Space CEO and Executive Director Dale Nash said in a statement. “Virginia Space is also proud to be delivering tangible results on the significant investment that the commonwealth has made in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.”
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