Atlas V rocket rolled to pad for 'Silent Barker' spysat launch (photos)

a brown and white rocket rolls toward its launch pad with a blue sky in the background
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rolls to its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Aug. 25, 2023. (Image credit: ULA)

United Launch Alliance (ULA) rolled its Atlas V rocket to the pad today (Aug. 25) to gear up for the launch of a hush-hush mission next week.

The Atlas V made the trek to Space Launch Complex-41 at Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, ULA representatives announced today via X (formerly Twitter).

The Atlas V is carrying a payload for "Silent Barker," a joint mission of the U.S. Space Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that's scheduled to launch on Tuesday (Aug. 29) at 8:34 a.m. EDT (1234 GMT). You can watch the liftoff live here at when the time comes, courtesy of ULA.

Related: Declassified US spy satellite photos & designs (gallery)

Another look at the Atlas V, which is scheduled to launch the Silent Barker mission for the U.S. Space Force and the National Reconnaissance Office on Aug. 29, 2023. (Image credit: ULA)

The Silent Barker mission, also known as NROL-107, aims to provide "the capability to search, detect and track objects from a space-based sensor for timely custody and event detection," according to a ULA mission description.

"Silent Barker/NROL107 will strengthen the NRO's ability to provide a wide range of timely intelligence information to national decision makers, warfighters and intelligence analysts to protect the nation's vital interests and support humanitarian efforts worldwide," the description adds.

That's pretty much all we know about the mission. The lack of detail isn't surprising; it's the norm for the NRO, which builds and operates the United States' fleet of spy satellites.

Silent Barker will be the 18th Atlas V launch for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. (Image credit: ULA)

The Atlas V has 97 launches under its belt to date, all of which have been successful. Seventeen of those flights have lofted NRO payloads, ULA representatives said via X today.

The workhorse rocket has launched a number of NASA spacecraft as well, including the Curiosity and Perseverance Mars rovers, the OSIRIS-REx asteroid-sampling probe and New Horizons, which performed the first-ever flyby of Pluto in July 2015.

ULA plans to phase out the Atlas V, however; the company is developing a new rocket called Vulcan Centaur, which will replace its older counterpart.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.