News 3 gets exclusive on-pad access to Minotaur I Rocket ahead of launch from NASA Wallops

NASA Wallops.jpg
Posted at 6:08 AM, Jun 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 09:43:45-04

ACCOMACK Co., - Talk about "spacing out" during a pandemic.

The Minotaur I Rocket, built and operated by Northrop Grumman blasted off at 9:35 a.m., on Tuesday from NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

Kelly Fitzpatrick, the senior Minotaur GNC engineer, said, "The challenging thing with rocket science is that it has to work and it has to work right the first time."

News 3 got an inside look at the rocket as crews completed the mission dress rehearsal ahead of Tuesday's launch.

"We start out on the bench, and then we put things together and we test again and then we come out here, we get our satellite integrated and we test again. So, by the time we've gotten to this stage it's been through an extensive amount of testing," said Fitzpatrick.

Extensive testing so all goes smoothly as the rocket carries national security payloads into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.

The NRO is the Intelligence Community element and a Department of Defense agency responsible for developing, acquiring, launching and operating America’s intelligence satellites to meet the national security needs of the nation.

"Generically, we like to communicate NRO payloads and capabilities in general as the nation's eyes and ears in space, right? So, being able to deliver, like I said, that exquisite intelligence information from space that our warfighters and national decision makers need," said Colonel Chad Davis, director of NRO Office of Space Launch.

This mission, named NROL-111, will be the third small launch USSF mission and the NRO’s second dedicated launch from Wallops in the last 12 months.

Dale Nash, CEO and executive director of Virginia Space, praises the economic impact of these launches.

"The impact is $1.37 billion a year. At the same time it's an economic benefit to us, it is an absolute benefit to our war-fighters," said Nash.

The 69-ft. tall Minotaur I launch vehicle consists of two solid-fueled motors from decommissioned Minuteman ICBMs as the lower stages and two solid-fueled commercial solid rocket motors as upper stages.

"I always tell people that we're recycling rocket motors. We're taking these ICBM rocket stages that the taxpayer paid for and were using them to launch government sponsored payloads," said Fitzpatrick.

NROL-111 is the second Northrop Grumman orbital launch from the MARS launch pads in 2021. Minotaur rockets have been launched from Wallops for nearly 15 years.

"They're executing a challenging mission, and they're doing it in order to keep you safe," said Col. Davis.