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USA-224, also known as NRO Launch 49 (NRO L-49), is an American reconnaissance satellite which was launched in 2011. It is a KH-11 optical imaging satellite, the fifteenth such spacecraft to be launched, and intended as a replacement of the USA-161 satellite launched in 2001.

Mission typeOptical imaging
OperatorUS NRO
COSPAR ID2011-002A
SATCAT no.37348
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft typeKH-11
ManufacturerLockheed Martin
Start of mission
Launch date20 January 2011, 21:10:30 (2011-01-20UTC21:10:30Z) UTC
RocketDelta IV Heavy D352
Launch siteVandenberg SLC-6
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee altitude270 kilometers (170 mi)[1]
Apogee altitude986 kilometers (613 mi)[1]
Inclination97.92 degrees[1]
Period97.13 minutes[1]
Epoch5 August 2014, 00:12:52 UTC[1]
NROL49 patch.jpg  

Project history and costEdit

The launch of USA-224

After the failure of the Boeing led Future Imagery Architecture program in 2005, NRO ordered two additional legacy hardware KH-11s. Critics of the decision voiced concerns that each "exquisite-class" satellite would cost more than the latest Nimitz class aircraft carrier (CVN-77)[2] with its projected procurement cost of US$ 6.35 billion as of May 2005.[3] USA-224 - the first of these two - was completed by Lockheed US $ 2 billion under the initial budget estimate, and two years ahead of schedule.[4] USA-224 was launched atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 6 at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch was conducted by United Launch Alliance, and was the first flight of a Delta IV Heavy from Vandenberg.[5] Liftoff occurred on January 20, 2011 at 21:10:30 UTC.[6] Upon reaching orbit, the satellite received the International Designator 2011-002A.[7] The early launch of USA-224, and operational changes to extend the lifetime of its predecessor USA-161, reduced the coverage gap caused by the end of the primary mission of USA-161 to just 33 days.[4]

Of the fifteenth KH-11 satellite to be launched, USA-224 is a member of one of the later block configurations occasionally identified as being a separate system. Details of its mission and orbit are classified, however amateur observers have identified it as being in a Low Earth orbit and tracked it. Shortly after launch it was in an orbit with a perigee of 251 kilometres (156 mi), an apogee of 1,023 kilometres (636 mi) and 97.9 degrees of inclination, typical for an operational KH-11 satellite.[8] By April it was 260 by 987 kilometres (162 by 613 mi) at 97.93 degrees.[9] As of 5 August 2014 it is in a 270 by 986 kilometres (168 by 613 mi) orbit with inclination of 97.92 degrees and an orbital period of 97.13 minutes

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Peat, Chris (5 August 2014). "USA 224 - Orbit". Heavens-Above. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  2. ^ Iannotta, Ben (2 June 2009). "Spy- sat rescue: Obama's proposal to prevent a gap in coverage sparks debate, optimism". Defense News.
  3. ^ O'Rourke, Ronald (25 May 2005). "Navy CVN-21 Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress". Naval Historical Center.
  4. ^ a b "10 Who Made a Difference in Space: Bruce Carlson, NRO Director" (PDF). Space News / NRO. 2011-09-07.
  5. ^ Ray, Justin (19 January 2011). "Delta 4-Heavy ready to serve nation from West Coast pad". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
  6. ^ Ray, Justin. "Mission Status Center". Delta Launch Report. Spaceflight Now.
  7. ^ Christy, Robert. "Space events - 2011". Zarya. Archived from the original on 19 October 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
  8. ^ Molczan, Ted (21 January 2011). "RE: NROL-49 search elements". SeeSat-L. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
  9. ^ Molczan, Ted (2011-04-27). "NROL-34: NOSS 3-5 elements". Visual Satellite Observer.