This past December, it was reported that the U.S. Air Force, in conjunction with the United Launch Alliance (ULA), launched a top secret spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) using a Delta 4 heavy launch vehicle.
This came as no surprise because, in recent years, the USAF has conducted several successful launches of spy satellites for the NRO. It looks like this partnership will continue into and throughout 2011.
According to Col. Richard Boltz, Commander at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, the California base was responsible for 10 launches last year and will up the ante this year with 11 more scheduled launches.
Not all of these are NRO related launches, but Boltz confirms that at least three of them will be carrying NRO payloads; one which has already launched.
The top-secret NRO payloads are set to launch aboard a Minotaur rocket on February 5th and an Atlas 5 on March 12th .
However, Vandenberg is wasting no time. On January 20th, the Air Force Base already launched an unmanned Delta 4-Heavy rocket carrying a classified payload for the NRO.
Col. Boltz admits the Delta 4-Heavy rocket was “the largest rocket ever launched from Vandenberg . . . it can carry a payload about the size of a Greyhound bus.”
Other than that, not much is known about the classified payload, which is referred to only as NROL-49.
Nevertheless, many speculate that it was the 15th launch of a KH-11 type electro-optical reconnaissance spy satellite. This type of satellite has been used since the ’70s and operates by modifying the optical properties of a material using an electric field.
However, Boltz does not confirm any details about the payload. He only confirms that, “2011 is shaping up to be just as busy a time for us.”
A busy time indeed; and it looks like the National Reconnaissance Office will be a major factor in keeping Vandenberg’s rockets busy throughout 2011.Originally published on TopSecretWriters.com