Minotaur IV rocket set to launch from MARS this July.
A Minotaur IV rocket is primed to launch from MARS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport) located at NASA Wallops, of Wallops Island Virginia this coming July. NET (No Earlier Than) the 15th. The exact launch window is as of now unknown, but reports say the lived feed will begin at 8:30 AM est which traditionally places the launch around 9:00 AM est. The classified payload named "NROL-128" is the first mission under the USSF (United States Space Force) to launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. 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. What is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport you ask? Well it's located next to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island Virginia. NASA itself used to operate the complex until 2003, and now with various support services of NASA, MARS launches under contract with the Commonwealth of Virginia, and consists of three launch pads, LP-OA, LP-OB, and Launch Complex 2. The ladder is where the company Rocket Lab will be launching their Electron rockets in the near future on American soil, and the other two launch pads are primarily used for Antares, Minotaur, and earlier Taurus rockets.
(Range control, at Wallops Flight Facility with the launch pads on screen.)
So now what is the Minotaur IV rocket you ask? Well to get started lets explain the Minotaur family of rockets. They are American solid fuel rockets made from converted Minuteman, and Peacekeeper ICBMs (Intercontinental ballistic missiles) Built by Northrop Grumman under contract with the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center's Space Development and Test Directorate. Part of the Air Force's Rocket Systems Launch Program which transfers retired ICBMs into space and test launch systems for U.S. Government agencies. There are three variants of the Minotaur currently in use.
The Minotaur I is and orbital launch system used to launch smaller satellites into LEO (Low Earth Orbit). The Minotaur II is a TLV (Target Launch Vehicle) also known as Chimera, used for suborbital flights. Often used for target tracking practice and anti-ballistic missile tests. Minotaur IV is a more capable LEO (Low Earth Orbit) launch system. At 78 feet tall, the rocket has been launched at Wallops for the last fourteen years.
(Photo of Antares Rocket sitting at the MARS launch complex at sunrise. 2020)
The last flight we saw of a Minotaur IV flight was back in August of 2017 from the Canaveral Air Force station, launching the ORS-5 payload. Operationally Responsive Space-5 is a satellite that scans the geosynchronous belt for any new geosynchronous satellites as well as space junk that may threaten existing geosynchronous satellites.