Delta 4 Lifts Off With Spy Satellite On Board
United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched a Delta 4 rocket at 4:12 p.m. (7:12 p.m. EDT) Tuesday, April 3 from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying a surreptitious spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) — a division of the US military.
The launch was a success, but only after several delays due to inclement weather and a technical issue. Initially scheduled to lift off five days earlier, the 20-story-high Delta 4 rocket climbed into space as spectators excitedly cheered on.
The Delta 4 launch was the first of four spy satellite missions planned by the NRO this year. The NRO launched six reconnaissance spacecraft last year within a span of 7 months. This year it wants to complete the launches in as little as five months.
“The teamwork between the 30th Space Wing, the National Reconnaissance Office, United Launch Alliance and numerous other agencies was seamless,” Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander, told Janene Scully of the Santa Maria Times.
Armagno, who gave the final “go” for Tuesday´s launch, added: “It´s this synergistic mindset and attention to detail that led to our amazing launch (Tuesday).”
Because Delta 4 was carrying a secretive payload for the NROL-25 mission, ULA officials stopped the live webcast of the launch 3-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. Officials remained tight-lipped about the health of the satellite, the mission itself, the cost, and other details, only acknowledging that the rocket´s nose cone separated after reaching its destination.
The Delta 4 rocket´s cargo was classified by the NRO, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Tuesday´s launch did, however, mark a milestone for the Delta 4 rocket; it was the first to launch using a version of the Delta 4 Medium-plus 5.2 configuration booster, which uses a common Delta 4 core flanked by twin solid rocket boosters and topped with a 16-foot fairing to cover the satellite payload.
The next launch is scheduled for early May, when ULA will oversee a mission to lift the US Air Force´s new communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
“ULA is proud to have supported this mission and delivered critical capabilities to the men and women defending our freedom throughout the world,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president of mission operations.
This was the 19th Delta 4 launch since the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program began in 2002. It is the fourth Delta 4 from Vandenberg. The Delta 4 rockets were developed under the Air Force´s EELV program as a way to simplify space boosters used to carry critical satellites into space.
“We are about to kick off a very, very busy time in EELV operations at Vandenberg,” said Lt. Col. Brady Hauboldt, 4th Space Launch Squadron commander and Air Force launch director, who leaves this summer for a new assignment.
The Air Force´s EELV Atlas 5 booster is scheduled to fly in August from Vandenberg.
“In total, we´re scheduled (for) eight more EELV launches in the next two-and-a-half years from Vandenberg,” Hauboldt said. “My successor will be very busy, I know he will be successful, but I´m a little jealous.”