Hear a distant roar or see a blazing light in the sky last night? It was probably a rocket that NASA launched from the Wallops Flight Facility and Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia's eastern shore. The launch, which occurred at 11:09 p.m., was bright enough to be seen from New York to North Carolina.
The U.S. Air Force Minotaur 1 was supposed to have taken off from Wallops yesterday, but thunderstorms caused a delay. The rocket was protected from the sniffles by a yellow rocket cozy, perhaps knitted by NASA scientists, that “provides thermal protection for the first and second stage prior to launch,” according to Space.com. The launch was well documented by facility personnel, but NASA's PR office is still waiting for the Air Force to OK the release of photos because of the sensitive military nature of the mission. In the meantime, here's a nice shot over the water taken in Lusby, Md. There's also this video:
In the tip of the rocket is snuggled the first satellite operated by the Department of Defense's Operationally Responsive Space office, a program created in 2007 to enhance the nation's military satellites. Good luck discovering precisely what that means. Apparently the military wants to make them smaller and get them up into space quicker? Anyway, here's what ORS-1 looks like:
According its mission page, this device will help "demonstrate the capability to meet emerging and persistent war-fighter needs on operationally relevant timelines." There is mention that the craft is carrying a customized version of the SYERS-2 imaging sensors used on U-2 spy planes. The sensor will be able to peer through haze and can operate in day and nighttime conditions.
ORS-1 will undergo a month-long calibration phase and then become operational, keeping our nation safe for one to two years until presumably ORS-2 takes over.