The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, headquartered in Chantilly, Virginia, is an intelligence agency for the Department of Defense. It designs, builds, and operates reconnaissance satellites for the U.S. government.
The NROL-28 satellite will be launched into orbit by a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5-411 rocket (AV-006), what is called an Atlas V (AV) Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV).
It will be launched from launch pad/silo SLC-3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base (California). It reportedly will also carry a SBIRS Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) sensor and two NASA sub-satellites.
The SBIRS (space-based infrared system, also sometimes called “brilliant eyes”) is a space surveillance system (Space Surveillance and Tracking System, SSTS) of the U.S. Air Force that involves missile warning and missile defense.
The NROL-28 satellite will be launched into a highly elliptical orbit in order to provide eavesdropping (spying) information on such groups as terrorists in the Middle East. For instance, the sensing devices onboard such satellites can track military vehicles moving on the Earth’s surface.
The NRO satellite USA 193 (NROL-21) made the news recently because it had to be destroyed on Wednesday, February 20, 2008, by a U.S. Navy SM-3 missile after failing to operate properly when it was first inserted into orbit in December 2006. There were concerns that the out-of-control satellite might be a hazard to humans if left to fall to Earth on its own.
The popular story was first reported by iTWire in the article “Debris from out-of-control U.S. spy satellite likely to hit Earth” and later in “Navy SM-3 missile wins space battle over USA 193 satellite”.