Watch Rocket Lab launch mysterious US spy satellites early on March 21

Rocket Lab will launch a mystery mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) early Thursday morning (March 21), and you can watch the action live.

The NROL-123 mission — or “Live and Let Fly,” as Rocket Lab calls it — is scheduled to lift off from the company’s Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Thursday during a nearly four-hour window that opens at 2:40 a.m. EDT (0640 GMT).

You can watch it live here at, courtesy of Rocket Lab, or directly via the company’s website. Coverage will start about 30 minutes before the window opens.

Related: Facts and information about Rocket Lab

Like all 45 Rocket Lab orbital missions to date, NROL-123 will employ Electron, a two-stage, 59-foot-tall (18-meter-tall) rocket that gives small satellites dedicated rides to space. (The company is also developing a larger launch vehicle called Neutron, but it has yet to fly.)

It’s unclear what exactly is going up on Thursday morning’s launch, or what orbit the mission is targeting. That’s no surprise; the NRO builds and operates the United States’ fleet of spy satellites and is generally tight-lipped about the nature and activities of its payloads.

We do know, however, that the NRO awarded Rocket Lab the NROL-123 mission via a Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract. “RASR enables the NRO to explore new opportunities for launching small satellites through a streamlined, commercial approach,” Rocket Lab officials wrote in a mission description.

It also seems that multiple satellites will be going up on NROL-123. Rocket Lab’s press kit, which you can find here, states that “payloads” are scheduled to be deployed about an hour after liftoff.


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NROL-123 will be the fifth mission Rocket Lab launches for the NRO. The other four lifted off from the company’s Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) on New Zealand’s North Island.

LC-1 has hosted the vast majority of Rocket Lab’s orbital launches to date — 42 of 45, to be precise. The company’s first launch from LC-2 fell in January 2023.

Rocket Lab is working to make the Electron’s first stage reusable; the company has recovered boosters from the sea on a number of previous missions and has even successfully reflown a used engine. But NROL-123 apparently won’t feature any recovery activities; the press kit makes no mention of them.

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