National Reconnaissance Office reveals mission patch ahead of Feb. 2 liftoff
By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor
A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to make a daylight departure from Vandenberg Space Force Base Wednesday, Feb. 2, to place a top-secret National Reconnaissance Office payload into orbit.
The Space Exploration Technologies booster’s departure will occur between 8:37 a.m. and 1:38 p.m., according to an NRO post on social media pages.
Liftoff of the mission dubbed NROL-87 will occur from Space Launch Complex-4 East on South Base, the area south of Ocean Avenue (Highway 246).
That five-hour launch opportunity is expected to be narrowed down ahead of the liftoff. The actual window for placing the payload into space typically remains top secret for NRO launches.
The mission involves carrying an NRO payload into orbit, but officials typically remain tight-lipped about the purpose of the spacecraft.
This September will mark 30 years since NRO removed its shroud of secrecy and at least admitted its existence followed by confirming its role in satellites headed to orbit for Vandenberg launches.
However, NRO did release its launch patch, which displays a wild mountain goat standing proud atop a mountain peak remaining watchfully alert.
“The NRO maintains constant vigilance from above in protecting our nation and its citizens,” the agency said. “The snow-capped mountain in the background represents our nation’s unmatched preeminence in space.”
A podcast spells out the tradition of the launch patch crafted after a lengthy design process to include features symbolic but not revealing about the mission.
It’s not yet clear if SpaceX will attempt to land the spent first-stage booster on a droneship in the ocean southwest of the Central Coast or at Vandenberg’s Landing Zone 4 west of the launch pad.
A third option would involve scrapping the segment in the ocean and giving up the chance for it to fly another mission.
A Falcon rocket flew as the final launch of 2021 from Vandenberg.
Before the Feb. 2 liftoff from Vandenberg, SpaceX has two Falcon 9 launches planned from Florida.