New US spy satellite in orbit

America launched a secret reconnaissance satellite atop an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 0837 EDT (1237 UTC) today.

The spy bird, dubbed NROL-61 by its owners the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), was popped into geostationary orbit around Earth and is now getting itself into position – but where isn't known, since the NRO asked the orbital delivery firm United Launch Alliance to cut the liftoff feed five minutes into transmission.

The exact capabilities of the satellite aren't known, although the NRO did reveal its launch patch depicting a green lizard called Spike riding a rocket into space. That's certainly less spooky than the NROL-39 patch, which depicted an octopus encircling the world with the motto: "Nothing is beyond our reach."

The NRO runs satellite systems for spying agencies in the US. It has the largest budget of any American intelligence agency, but very few employees, preferring to use contractors for almost all its business. ®

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