The Atlas V 421 variant uses a four meter payload fairing, two strap-on solid rocket boosters, and a single RL-10A4-2 Centaur upper stage engine. Photo credit: Dawn Haworth / We Report Space.
On July 28, 2016, the skies above Cape Canaveral, Florida, were once again filled with the overwhelming light of solid rocket boosters, as United Launch Alliance sent the NROL-61 payload on its way to space, atop an Atlas V rocket. Lifting off at 8:37am local time, the rocket launched right at the opening of its planned 2+ hour window. On-time launch reliability is one of the major selling points of the Atlas V rocket when it comes to mission planning, and NROL-61 was no exception.
As is usual with National Reconnaissance Office launches, very little information was released to the media about this payload or its intended orbit in space; ULA’s own launch coverage terminated just a few minutes into flight, ending at the request of the NRO just after the payload fairing was jettisoned.
Receiving almost attention as the launch itself was the unique mission artwork for NROL-61, depicting a lizard named “Spike” riding the Atlas V to orbit. The NRO has an established history of creating ...