Spy satellite and hitchhiking Cubesats successfully launched

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United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully launched an Atlas V from Vandenburg AFB, California, after several weeks' delay. The Atlas lofted a reconnaissance payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and 11 Cubesats.

While the Atlas V, launched in 401 configuration with a four metre fairing and without solid rocket boosters, was delivered to the launch pad on schedule, an issue with the range at Vandenberg prevented a timely launch.

As is typical of NRO launches, a news blackout was imposed several minutes after launch to disguise the payloads' precise orbit. While the fourth launch in five month for the NRO, the flight marks the first time the agency has allowed additional, unrelated payloads to hitch a ride into orbit.

"These auxiliary payloads are the first of their kind for an Atlas V mission," says ULA vice president of mission operations Jim Sponnick. "We are pleased we could support the NRO, NASA, and all of the associated institutions to deliver these important CubeSats which will study space weather and communications, debris mitigation, maritime shipping container tracking as well as space flight safety and orbit refinement."

 c: ula

 ©United Launch Alliance