Over the last decade, patches associated with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) have become increasingly popular among both military and space patch collectors. A large number of the NRO’s 3,000+ personnel come from the U.S. Air Force with many coming from that service’s space community. After the NRO’s existence and mission were declassified in September 1992, the organization slowly started to allow personnel to make patches. In 1996, the NRO started to publicly acknowledge launches and NRO personnel started to design and have launch patches produced. These patches followed a tradition of launch patches that started with military space launches in the 1990s.
For many military and NRO launches, there are often different patch designs made to commemorate the event made by the different organizations/companies associated with the launch. For NRO launches, you’ll typically see one by an NRO organization, one by the unit responsible for launching the rocket (typically one of the squadrons from the 30th or 45th Space Wings) and sometimes one from the contractor.
The NRO designs are approved by security personnel and then sold by booster club type organizations as a commemorative keepsake to the personnel involved with the program. Likewise, the patches designed by the space launch squadrons are sold by the unit’s booster clubs as their primary fundraiser.
Due to publicity surrounding some of the launch patches as well as the “secretive” nature of the NRO, these patches have become sought after with many pieces fetching over $100 a piece. The popularity of these patches have also resulted in numerous reproductions that have flooded the market as people try to make a quick buck.
The Smithsonian Magazine recently published an article on its website on the NRO’s launch patches – you can find it here:
To see the 2000 Washington Post article which first brought NRO patches into the national limelight, go here: