Fleeting Wonders: NASA Launched a Secret Reconnaissance Satellite - Atlas Obscura
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Fleeting Wonders: NASA Launched a Secret Reconnaissance Satellite

The Atlas V arcs into space. (Photo: Spaceflight Now/Twitter)

This morning, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Like any other rocket launch, it was extremely cool-looking. Unlike many other rocket launches, we don’t exactly know what was aboard.

The rocket achieves liftoff. (Photo: ULA/Twitter)

The large size of the vehicle is a bit deceiving, as most of the Atlas V gets shed as it leaves the atmosphere. What winds up in orbit is the “payload,” a spacecraft or satellite that was concealed within the arrow-shaped rocket’s tip. The payload for this morning’s launch was several small CubeSats and NROL-55, a spacecraft belonging to the National Reconnaissance Office. What is it for? That’s classified.

The rocket’s hand-painted payload fairing, containing…what? (Photo: ULA/Twitter)

Of course, we can make an educated guess. Well, not us—we just think rockets are cool. But William Graham, unmanned missions reporter at NASASpaceflight.com (which covers, but is not affiliated with, NASA), is betting that it’s a type of Naval Ocean Surveillance System satellite alarmingly codenamed “Intruder”. These are intelligence-gathering satellites that collect information about ships at sea. 

But hey, I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about! Are you a ship at sea? No? Then RELAX. Watch this!

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to edit@atlasobscura.com.