A Tuesday launch will aim to put highly secret object-tracking satellites into geosynchronous orbit, U.S. officials said in a press conference about an upcoming National Reconnaissance Office mission.
The launch, which will use United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket, is part of the Space Force/NRO SILENTBARKER/NROL-107 mission.
The NRO’s missions typically remain highly classified, as the office operates the Defense Department’s spy satellites. According to Lt. General Michael Guetlein of Space Systems Command, the Pentagon has begun being more transparent about their missions in order to discourage adversaries.
“A huge element of deterrence is the ability for the adversary to know what we can and cannot see, so we actually want our competitors to know that we have eyes in GEO and we can see what’s happening in GEO,” Guetlein told reporters Monday.
The Defense Department makes an effort to “be more transparent” with this mission, said NRO director Chris Scolese.
“We want to let people know, to some extent, what our capabilities are, and this is one capability that if you think about it, has great value beyond just national security,” Scolese said.
There are “multiple payloads” on tomorrow’s launch, but officials wouldn’t say how many. Scolese stated that they expect a total two launches to be made for the SILENTBARKER Mission, but this could change. SILENTBARKER will reach full operational capability in 2026.
The U.S. will have “unprecedented” coverage in GEO Belt, allowing them to understand what other countries are doing and if they pose a threat or not.
Scolese called the program a “watchdog,” which will help the Space Force, NRO and other countries better understand what is happening in GEO.
“We also want to know if there is something going on that is unexpected, or shouldn’t be going on that could potentially represent a threat to a high-value asset, either ours or one of our allies,” he said.
Space Command has been vocal about its need for dynamic space operations–the ability for satellites to move around outside of a specific orbital position. Scolese stated that this capability would give the U.S. eyes for deciding if it is necessary to move assets into space.
“SILENTBARKER will provide indications and warns to inform us about the maneuvers or levels of awareness we need. So it’s a great increase in our understanding of what we’ll be able to do and will greatly improve our ability to determine future courses of action,” Scolese said.
Following SILENTBARKER, there is one remaining National Security Space Launch Atlas 5 launch, which will also lift off from Cape Canaveral.
ULA will replace the Atlas 5 with its new heavy-lift rocket called Vulcan, which the company aims to fly by the end of the year, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said. Vulcan will deliver “more capabilities” than Atlas 5, Bruno told reporters Monday.
Atlas 5 has been flying missions that were originally supposed to be flown by Vulcan, which has been behind schedule for years due to delays in developing Vulcan’s main engine, BE-4–supplied by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.
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