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US Launches Spy Satellite In The Pacific As China Tensions Mount

National Reconnaissance Office

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As China established a blockade around Taiwan Thursday, the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) launched a spy satellite from New Zealand, its second in just three weeks, Defense News reported.

The launch of NROL-199, the mission’s official designation, was initially intended to be July 22, just nine days after the launch of its sister satellite, NROL-162, but was delayed twice due to software and then weather concerns, Defense News reported. The NRO did not disclose the nature of the two launches, stating only that “both carry national security payloads” in an NRO press release. (RELATED: US Carrier Patrolling Waters Near Taiwan While China Rehearses War After Pelosi Visit)

“These missions demonstrate NRO’s capability to launch multiple rockets from overseas locations back-to-back, and both carry national security payloads designed, built, and operated by NRO,” the NRO announced.

The news of the launch comes as tensions between the U.S. and China near an all-time high over Taiwan, with the Chinese military launching a series of drills meant to deter both the U.S. and what the Chinese government describes as Taiwanese “secessionists,” Chinese state media Global Times said Wednesday.

The launches are part of a long-term strategy the NRO is developing to pivot from relying solely on large homemade satellites to a more flexible network of smaller satellites developed with international partners, SpaceNews reported Thursday.

While the NROL-199 launch represented the NRO’s 4th launch of the year, according to the NRO’s press release, China recently launched a trio of satellites in July, bringing their total this year to six, according to Space.com. Thursday, the Chinese fired a mysterious “test spacecraft” which is speculated to be a spaceplane, similar to the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B, a craft capable of flight both in-atmosphere and in space, SpaceNews reported Thursday.

“We’re letting physics dictate what we need,” said Chris Scolese, director of the NRO, at a Mitchell Institute event Thursday, according to SpaceNews.

“Having the capability to launch pretty much from almost anywhere in the world gives us great flexibility and adds to our resilience,” said Scolese. “It also gives us the ability to reconstitute should we lose a capability either due to a mission failure or in a conflict.”

The two-stage Electron rocket that carried the NROL-199 and NROL-162 payloads is designed by contractor, Rocket Lab, to deliver small payloads to orbit, but was also recently used to deliver a satellite to the moon on behalf of NASA, according to Space.com.

“The turnaround between NROL-162 and today’s NROL-199 launch is the shortest time between national security missions by a small launch provider, setting a new standard in responsive space,” Rocket Labs said in a statement.

The Defense Department did not immediately responded to a Daily Caller News Foundation request for comment.

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