NROL-61 orbit unveiled !

Launched recently on July 28, 2016, on atop of United Launch Alliance Atlas V (421) classified payload was spotted by one of the Australian satellite spotters.

NROL-61 was launched on from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral AFS for national Reconnaissance Office. Due the published NOTAM it was possible to confirm that rocket will be launched in North Eastern direction with drop zones located on Western North Atlantic. Still, trajectory and payload orbit were mystery until Friday, 29 July.  According to satobs.org, Paul Camilieri, satellite observer from Australia, spotted and tracked NROL-61 on July 29 from 13:47 GMT to 15:54 GMT. Basing on pictures and satobs.org analysis, Centaur upper stage reached, after separation from Atlas V, orbit of apogee of 28014 km.  Payload after deploying was still visible, but pictures taken by Paul Camilieri were not giving clear view of parabola. However their quality was sufficient to confirm previous analysis, that deployed payload reached orbit with perigee 843 km at and apogee at 35739 km with inclination at 18.9°. It confirmed also that payload was single satellite with estimated weight of 5 t. All these facts are pointing that launched satellite was probably next generation SDS (Satellite Data System) spacecraft. These satellites are called Quasar and since 1976, when program started, nineteen satellites have been deployed on orbit of (estimated parameters) 300 km x 39000 km. They are used as data relay communication satellites between low orbit imaging satellites and polar communication stations providing nearly real time data transfer; according some sources they are also providing communication for U.S. Air Force planes on the northern hemisphere and U.S. Air Force bases around the globe.

Sources:
http://www.satobs.org/seesat/Jul-2016/0135.html

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