For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After raising the Falcon 9 rocket from vertical to horizontal this afternoon, Wednesday, Dec. 16, SpaceX is targeting Thursday morning, Dec.17 for the breakfast time launch of the clandestine NROL-108 mission spy satellite payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from the Florida Space Coast.
And the weather outlook is rather good for blastoff of the NROL-108 surveillance satellite atop a veteran 1st stage booster that will be flying for the fifth time.
The mission will also feature an extremely exciting landing of the first stage back at the Cape at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) some eight minutes after launch from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Liftoff of the 23-story tall single stick SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the NROL-108 intelligence gathering mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is slated for 9:00 a.m. EST (14:00 GMT) from seaside Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
The launch window runs three hours to 12 Noon.
As always nothing is known about the nature of the payload or its clandestine mission
Also, in stark contrast to most Falcon 9 launches the customary prelaunch static first test was skipped by SpaceX this time.
In fact there have been a slew of national security NRO launches this year including three in the past month or so on both SpaceX Falco 9 rockets and United Launch Alliance Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy rockets from the Space Coast – see out launch articles and photos covering each mission.
“NROL-108 will be the NRO’s sixth launch of 2020 and will carry a national security payload designed, built and operated by the agency,” said the NRO in a statement .
“The NRO recently collaborated with United Launch Alliance (ULA), Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, and the 45th Space Wing to launch the NROL-44 mission earlier this month on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. NRO collaborated with these same partners in November 2020 to launch our NROL-101 mission on an Atlas V launch vehicle, also from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.”
The logo for the official NRO mission artwork emblazoned on the nose cone is ‘Peace Through Strength’ – see our photo below.
“The NROL-108 mission patch shows a gorilla beating its chest in front of a green background with the tagline “Peace Through Strength”. The NRO chose this theme because gorillas are peaceful animals but can be fierce when necessary. Like the gorilla, this mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO’s commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, and allies,” according to the NRO description.
Gorillas are peaceful animals but can be fierce when necessary. Like the gorilla, our #NROL108 mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO's commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, and allies. Launch scheduled NET Dec. 17 w/ @SpaceX pic.twitter.com/M5k7obXk08
— NRO (@NatReconOfc) December 14, 2020
The rocket was rolled out and transported horizontal on the TE transporter erector to the top of pad 39A today and then raised vertical this afternoon during our media remote camera setup.
Enjoy our Space UpClose prelaunch photos of the SpaceX Falcon 9 horizontal and vertical at pad 39A taken by Ken Kremer.
You can watch the launch webcast live
The SpaceX webcast starts about 15 minutes before liftoff.
“Targeting tomorrow morning, Dec. 17 for our #NROL108 mission launch with @SpaceX on a Falcon 9–the 3-hour launch window opens at 9:00 a.m. EST. Follow the broadcast at ,” tweeted the NRO spacex.com/launches
Targeting tomorrow morning, Dec. 17 for our #NROL108 mission launch with @SpaceX on a Falcon 9–the 3-hour launch window opens at 9:00 a.m. EST. Follow the broadcast at https://t.co/sQviELaKWL! 📸: SpaceX pic.twitter.com/Esfo1OP4DW
— NRO (@NatReconOfc) December 17, 2020
The weather outlook is decent.
Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Weather Squadron forecast a 70% chance of acceptable condition at launch time for the 3 hour window that stretches to 12 Noon ET.
The primary concerns are: Lift Off Winds, Cumulous Cloud Rule
In case of a delay for weather or technical reasons a backup launch opportunity is available on Friday, Dec. 18 – agon for 3 hours from 9 a.m.to 12 Noon ET
The weather odds improve slightly to a very good 80% GO.
The primary concerns are: Lift off winds
What is the mission of the NRO for US National Security needs?
“Develop. Acquire. Launch. Operate. When the United States needs eyes and ears where no human can reach, it turns to the National Reconnaissance Office. #NROL108 will be the NRO’s sixth launch of 2020. #WeAretheNRO #PeaceThroughStrength,” the NRO tweeted.
Develop. Acquire. Launch. Operate. When the United States needs eyes and ears where no human can reach, it turns to the National Reconnaissance Office. #NROL108 will be the NRO’s sixth launch of 2020. #WeAretheNRO #PeaceThroughStrength 🚀🦍
— NRO (@NatReconOfc) December 15, 2020
“The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is an Intelligence Community element and Department of Defense organization responsible for developing, acquiring, launching and operating America’s reconnaissance satellites, as well as operating associated data processing facilities in support of national security,” per a NRO mission statement.
Following stage separation, SpaceX will land Falcon 9’s first stage on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida about eight and a half minutes after launch.
Falcon 9’s first stage booster previously supported launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, a Starlink mission, and the SAOCOM 1B mission. See our earlier articles and photos.
SpaceX has landed 69 Falcon 9 first stages previously.
This will be SpaceX’s 26th and likely final launch of 2020 – establishing a truly remarkable launch cadence with 100% success this year.
The Falcon 9 stands at 70 m (229.6 ft) tall, 3.7 m (12 ft) diameter, weighs 549,054 kg (1,207,920 lb), and can lift 22,800 kg (50,265 lb) to Low Earth Orbit and 8,300 kg (18,300 lb) to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit.
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about National Security missions, SpaceX Crew Dragon, Starlink, Commercial Crew and Artemis and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Demo-2, Starlink, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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