NROL 21 (or USA 193) is the cover-name for one-off classified satellite. Although nothing is known about the mission, the orbit hints for an experimental radar reconnaissance satellite as it uses the same inclination as the Onyx radar satellites. Most likely it was related to the radar component of the FIA (Future Intelligence Architecture).
A few weeks after launch reports emerged, that ground stations were unable to communicate with an expensive experimental U.S. spy satellite launched last year by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Efforts were said to be continuing to reestablish communication with the classified satellite, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but "the prognosis is not great at this point," said the defense official, who asked not to be identified .The official said the problems were substantial and involved multiple systems, adding that U.S. officials were working to reestablish contact with the satellite because of the importance of the new technology it was meant to test and demonstrate. An other source said the satellite had been described to him as "a comprehensive failure."
In August 2007 the satellite has been declared a complete loss and will be allowed to decay from orbit. But when it became clear, that NROL 21 would decay in March 2008, the Pentagon decided to destroy the satellite to prevent larger parts reaching the earth. On 21 February 2008 a Standard-SM3 missiles fired from the USS Lake Erie in the pacific ocean hit the spacecraft and destroyed it. Reportedly more the 80 parts of debris were detected. It is expected, that this event in a very low orbit will create only short lived orbital debris.
Note: The NROL designations refer to the launch, not to the payload.
|Type / Application:||Experimental radar|
|Power:||Solar array, batteries|
|Orbit:||353 km × 380 km, 58.5°|
|NROL 21 (USA 193)||2006-057A||14.12.2006||Va SLC-2W||Delta-7920-10C|