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US spy satellite launch on Rocket Lab booster delayed

The mission patch for NROL-199 depicts a dingo in the Australian outback with the motto "Ad astra per aspera."
The mission patch for NROL-199 depicts a dingo in the Australian outback with the motto "Ad astra per aspera." According to the NRO, the dingo was chosen for the patch for NROL-199 because the canine is "built for speed, agility, and stamina." (Image credit: NRO)

A clandestine U.S. spy satellite will have to wait a bit longer for its launch on a Rocket Lab booster.

The mission on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) will stand down from its Friday (July 22) launch opportunity indefinitely, Rocket Lab announced on Twitter.

"Operating our own launch site gives our customers maximum flexibility on launch timing. We'll be ready to launch when you are," Rocket Lab stated (opens in new tab) on Twitter on Tuesday (July 19) in response to a previous tweet (opens in new tab) from NRO, which announced software updates are required on the payload. "NRO is currently implementing payload software updates for NROL-199," the NRO's tweet stated. "As soon as the updates are implemented, NRO and RocketLab  will provide a new launch date for NROL-199."

Related: Rocket Lab and its Electron booster (photos)

A helicopter catches the falling first stage of a Rocket Lab Electron launcher shortly after it lofted 34 satellites on May 2, 2022. (Image credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab operates a rocket complex on New Zealand's North Island, from where it had planned to deploy this mission. The launch services provider had planned to use its two-stage Electron rocket to launch a national security payload for NRO in partnership with the Australian Department of Defense. The mission, more officially called NROL-199, was the second recent one on behalf of NRO after a successful July 13 launch of a spy satellite.

As is typical with national security launches, few details are available about the classified payload's functions. The company said the payload will "support the NRO to provide critical information to government agencies and decision makers monitoring international issues" in documentation (opens in new tab) about NROL-199.

In a tweet explaining why a dingo was chosen for the official mission patch of NROL-199, or "Antipodean Adventure," NRO wrote that the dingo is built for "speed, agility, and stamina," similar to the classified payload the mission will launch. 

The National Reconnaissance Office, who will operate the satellite, is tasked with developing, launching, and maintaining the United States' fleet of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) satellites. These collect a wide range of information from the planet below, including signals intelligence (the interception of communications and other signals), imagery intelligence, and even radar imaging

Rocket Lab has already launched several national security missions on behalf of the U.S. government. Aside from NROL-162 earlier this month, Rocket Lab sent three payloads aloft for the spy agency in June 2020. It also sent NRO's classified NROL-151 satellite to space in January 2020.

The Electron vehicle is not reusable at this time, but Rocket Lab is aiming to make it partially so fairly soon. A test mission in May saw a helicopter snag the falling rocket's first stage in mid-air, in a key moment of the company's reusability quest. Rocket Lab wants to reduce costs and increase launch frequency, company representatives have said.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.