November 22, 2010

World’s Largest Satellite Launched On Sunday

A Delta IV Heavy rocket, reportedly carrying the largest satellite on Earth, successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday, rocket manufacturer United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced in a corporate press release.

The craft, which was propelled into space at 5:58pm Eastern time, was carrying a classified cargo for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. According to BBC News, the speculation is that said cargo is an espionage satellite that will be used to "eavesdrop on enemy communications," and CBS News reports that NRO Director Bruce Carlson said that the payload would be "the largest satellite in the world."

"I believe the payload is the fifth in the series of what we call Mentor spacecraft, a.k.a. Advanced Orion," satellite tracker Ted Molczan told Spaceflight Now, according to CBS News reports. "They are among the largest satellites ever deployed"¦ The satellite likely consists of sensitive radio receivers and an antenna generally believed to span up to 328 feet to gather electronic intelligence for the National Security Agency (NSA)."

Comparing the device to the seven metric ton Terrestar-1 telecom spacecraft, which boasted "an 18m antenna-reflector to relay phone and data traffic," BBC News reports that the unidentified cargo launched on Sunday would have a mesh antenna that "would exceed" that of Terrestar-1, "and could even be substantially bigger than the 22m-diamater structure orbited last week on another commercial platform called Skyterra-1."

Sunday's launch was the fourth for the Delta IV Heavy rocket, which first took flight in December 2004, and the second for the NRO, according to company officials. In a statement, ULA vice president Jim Sponnick said that the launch marked "the culmination of years of hard work and dedication by the combined NRO, Air Force, supplier, and ULA team"¦ ULA is pleased to support the NRO as it protects our nation's security and supports our warriors defending our nation around the world."

According to the ULA, the Delta IV Heavy includes a central common booster core, as well as two additional strap-on boosters, each of which is powered by an RS-68 cryogenic engine. The craft's payloads are encased in a nearly 17-foot diameter, tri-sector fairing that is made out of aluminum. The next launch for the rocket, which was originally built in Decatur, Alabama, is currently scheduled to occur on January 11, 2011 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.


Image Caption: A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, on behalf of Boeing launch Services, lifts off from Space Launch Complex-2 carrying COSMO-SkyMed 4. Credit: United Launch Alliance (ULA)


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