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NROL-52 launch
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket lofts a payload into space for the NROL-52 mission. (ULA Photo)

After more than a week of delays, the National Reconnaissance Office was glad to see its latest spy satellite go into orbit on Sunday — and so was Kirkland, Wash.-based Systima Technologies.

When a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched the NROL-52 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Systima’s pyrotechnic valves played a mission-critical role as part of the reaction control system on the rocket’s Centaur upper stage.

“This marks the first flight of Systima’s pyrovalves, RCS hardware, as well as the first time Systima has supported an Atlas 5 launch,” Taylor Banks, Systima’s controller and contracts manager, told GeekWire in an email. “Systima is thrilled to be part of the ULA team and would like to congratulate all that supported the successful mission.”

The pyrovalves went through a one-time firing during ascent to activate the reaction control system. You can hear ULA launch commentator Marty Malinowski calling out that “RCS pyrovalve has been fired … signatures look good” at the 29:30 mark in this YouTube video of the launch:

The NROL-52 launch had been delayed several times, due to weather concerns as well as a balky telemetry transmitter that had to be replaced.

The National Reconnaissance Office didn’t discuss the precise nature of the payload, but it’s generally assumed to be a data relay satellite for surveillance imagery.

“Never before has innovation been more important for keeping us ahead of the game,” Air Force Col. Matthew Skeen, director of the NRO Office of Space Launch, said in a news release issued after liftoff. “As the eagle soars, so will the advanced capabilities this payload provides to our national security. Kudos to the entire team for a job well done.”

NROL-52 was the fourth of five NRO launches planned this year. The next one is due to blast off in December from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Systima Technologies manufactures a variety of energetic components and integrated systems supporting the defense, space and commercial markets. One of its high-profile projects is the fabrication of a ring-shaped joint assembly for a stage adapter on NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket.

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