NNSA honors 50th Anniversary of Vela satellite launch

The National Nuclear Security Administration recently commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Vela satellite launch.

The Vela satellites were the first satellites launched by the U.S. to monitor global compliance to the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty. The 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty was an arms control treaty which prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, outer space and bodies of water.

"The Vela Project is a great success story," NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington said. "Vela and the continuing Space Nuclear Detonation Detection mission exemplify nuclear nonproliferation efforts to limit the threat of nuclear weapons around the world."

The initial contract for the Vela satellites was for the development and launch of 10 satellites, valued at $15 million total. The first six satellites were deemed so successful, the last four were never launched.

Since 1963, nuclear detection satellite capabilities have continued to increase, including enhanced detection capacity, optical flash detectors and faster data analyses. Since the first launch of the Vela satellites, two additional initiatives, led by the Department of Defense and The Space Detonation Detection mission, have launched Vela satellites with increased detection capabilities.

The detection satellites were able to give researchers information about more than nuclear testing - information about naturally occurring gamma ray bursts, radiation within the Earth's magnetosphere and lightning storms have all been discovered using this technology.

The NNSA and the U.S. Air Force intend to continue working together to produce detection satellites with higher capabilities while reducing operational costs.