US spy satellite launch Tuesday could be visible from much of the East Coast

A Minotaur rocket will carry a National Reconnaissance Office payload to orbit from Virginia in the morning.

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Eric Mack
2 min read

A Minotaur rocket is readied for launch.

NASA/Northrop Grumman

Hopefully this post will help reduce the spike in reports of unidentified flying objects that happens after a relatively rare space launch from NASA's Wallops Island facility in Virginia.

Due to the central location along the eastern coastline of the US, a launch from Wallops Island can be visible to tens of millions of Americans from Georgia to Maine and as far west as Indiana. 

If those people in the region look toward coastal Virginia and see what looks like an airplane contrail, but vertical, then they're probably seeing the vapor trail of the Northrop Grumman Minotaur I rocket that's set for a 4 a.m. PT (7 a.m. ET) launch Tuesday.


The Minotaur's vapor trail will become visible not long after launch, weather permitting.


The rocket will boost three national security payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office in cooperation with the US Space Force. Wallops typically sees only a few launches per year, and this is the second launch for the NRO from there in the past 12 months.

The Minotaur is a veteran of the Wallops space scene, where it's been launching for the past 15 years. The vehicle is nearly seven stories tall and includes solid-fueled motors from decommissioned Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.

If you're not anywhere in the line of sight zones shown on the map above, or the weather isn't cooperating, you can also watch the livestream of the launch via the YouTube embed below; it should begin about 30 minutes prior to launch.

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