Spaceflight Insider

Gallery: Atlas V roars spaceward with secret NROL-42 payload

Image Credit: ULA

Image Credit: ULA

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Launching into the dark West Coast night was a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. Carried by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, the NROL-42 mission lifted away from Space Launch Complex 3 at 1:49 a.m. EDT (05:49 GMT) Sept. 24, 2017.

Flying in the “541” configuration, the Atlas V sported four strap-on solid rocket boosters, a 17.7-foot (5.4-meter) payload fairing, and a single engine Centaur upper stage. The two-stage rocket stood about 191 feet (58.3 meters) and produced some 2.4 million pounds-force (10,580 kilonewtons) of thrust at liftoff.

With the help of the four strap-on boosters and the core stage’s single Russian-built RD-180 engine, the whole stack accelerated to Mach 1 in just 34 seconds. Just under two minutes after leaving the West Coast, the four boosters separated in two pairs about two seconds apart.

Due to the classified nature of the mission, ULA coverage ended about four minutes after liftoff, just several seconds after the payload fairing jettisoned.

This was the 25th launch ULA has done for the NRO and 73rd launch of an Atlas V rocket in its various configurations.

So far in 2017, ULA has launched six rockets. Five have been Atlas V’s while the other was a Delta IV Medium. Two were in Vandenberg while the rest occurred out of Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The following photos of NROL-42 mission preparation and launch are from United Launch Alliance.

The NROL-42 payload is rolled to Space Launch Compelx 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo Credit: ULA

The NROL-42 payload is rolled to Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo Credit: ULA

 

The classified NROL-42 payload, which is encapsulated inside a payload fairing, is raised up to be attached to the top of the Atlas V rocket. Photo Credit: ULA

The classified NROL-42 payload, which is encapsulated inside a payload fairing, is raised up to be attached to the top of the Atlas V rocket. Photo Credit: ULA

 

On Sept. 24, 2017, the mobile service tower at Space Launch Complex 3 is rolled back to reveal the Atlas V with the NROL-42 payload encapsulated on top. Photo Credit: ULA

On Sept. 23, 2017, the mobile service tower at Space Launch Complex 3 is rolled back to reveal the Atlas V with the NROL-42 payload encapsulated on top. Photo Credit: ULA

 

Photo Credit: ULA

Photo Credit: ULA

 

Atlas V / NROL-42 on the launch pad

The Mobile Service Tower, or MST, is rolled back at Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex-3 in preparation for the launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-42 mission. Photo & Caption Credit: Jeff Spotts / ULA

 

Atlas V / NROL-42 launch

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office lifted off from Space Launch Complex-3. Designated NROL-42, the mission is in support of national security. Photo & Caption Credit: Jeff Spotts / ULA

 

Atlas V / NROL-42 launch

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office lifted off from Space Launch Complex-3. Designated NROL-42, the mission is in support of national security. Photo & Caption Credit: Jeff Spotts / ULA

 

Atlas V / NROL-42 launch

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office lifted off from Space Launch Complex-3. Designated NROL-42, the mission is in support of national security. Photo & Caption Credit: Jeff Spotts / ULA

 

Atlas V / NROL-42 launch

A National Reconnaissance Office payload on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launches from Space Launch Complex-3, Sept. 23, 2017, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Photo & Caption Credit: Senior Airman Ian Dudley / USAF

 

Video courtesy of United Launch Alliance

 

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