An Atlas 5 rocket from the United Launch Alliance took to the skies, carrying multiple satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). These satellites are set to monitor activities in the high orbit used by spy satellites, communication hubs, and other crucial U.S. assets.
The mission, dubbed NROL-107, involves an unspecified number of satellites designed to operate in geosynchronous orbit, approximately 22,300 miles above the equator. It has been nicknamed “Silent Barker.” NRO Director Chris Scolese mentioned, “This mission aims to maintain surveillance in that particular orbit and understand the daily happenings.”
Besides observing regular satellite activities, the mission also looks for anomalies or unexpected movements, which could pose risks to significant U.S. or allied assets. Essentially, it serves as a guardian in the geosynchronous orbit.
This launch, initially scheduled for Aug. 29 but postponed due to Hurricane Idalia and a technical hitch, represents the last Atlas 5 NRO flight. This marks the transition of ULA to their new Vulcan rocket. While the NRO was open about NROL-107’s main objective, specific ascent details and Silent Barker’s orbital specifications remained classified. Therefore, ULA ceased its launch commentary once the rocket’s first stage concluded its burn.
It’s widely acknowledged that in geosynchronous orbit, satellites complete a full rotation in 24 hours, moving synchronously with Earth, thus appearing static in the sky. This orbit offers expansive coverage for various satellite types, including military and commercial.
Military recon and communication satellites could become primary targets in potential significant confrontations. Countries like China and Russia are believed to possess satellites capable of intercepting, inspecting, and potentially disrupting U.S. and allied satellites.
The NRO typically remains reticent about its payloads. However, with Silent Barker, they wanted to send a clear message about the U.S.’s capability to monitor threats in the challenging-to-observe “geo belt.” Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein of the U.S. Space Force emphasized the importance of letting rivals know about the U.S.’s surveillance capabilities in geo, asserting its vital role in deterrence.
This launch initiates the Silent Barker series, with another mission anticipated. The program is projected to be fully functional by 2026. Scolese highlighted Silent Barker’s role in alerting and guiding decisions related to maneuvers or heightened awareness, enhancing the understanding and future planning of actions.