Home / Science / After long delays, the ULA’s most powerful rocket is ready to launch a classified spy satellite

After long delays, the ULA’s most powerful rocket is ready to launch a classified spy satellite



After many weeks of delays due to faulty equipment and bad weather, the United Launch Alliance is ready to launch its most powerful rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, lifting a spy satellite classified for the National Reconnaissance Office. The mission is finally ready to fly a full month after the first rocket launch attempt, which was interrupted just three seconds before takeoff.

The rocket climbing ULA’s mission is the Delta IV Heavy, a giant vehicle consisting of three rocket cores tied together to provide extra thrust. It’s one of the most powerful rockets in the world, even if it falls short of the power packed into SpaceX̵

7;s Falcon Heavy. ULA does not fly the Delta IV Heavy very often, as it is an expensive vehicle to make, but the company uses the rocket for large, heavy satellites headed for very high orbits.

The rocket’s payload is NROL-44 and, like all NRO missions, its purpose is hidden in secret. The office simply notes that “NROL-44 supports the NRO’s general national security mission to provide intelligence data to high-level US policymakers, the intelligence community and the Department of Defense.” ULA has already launched 29 missions for NRO, many of which required the Delta IV Heavy.

ULA was ready to launch NROL-44 in the early morning hours of 29 August. ULA counted to seconds before takeoff, with the Delta IV Heavy’s main engines firing briefly. But the engines quickly died and the rocket remained fixed on the launch pad. ULA later learned that a piece of the ground equipment had failed, causing the outage. It took the company a few weeks to replace the faulty equipment.

Further problems with the equipment on the launch pad delayed the launch time again, but ULA hopes to take off this week. Unfortunately, the weather was not pleasant, with bad conditions delaying the attempts on Monday and Tuesday. But in the end, there’s a 70% chance that the weather will cooperate for the launch tonight, so maybe today is the right day.

Delta IV Heavy is scheduled to take off Tuesday at 11:54 PM ET from the ULA launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. ULA’s launch blog will begin at 3:15 pm ET, and its webcast will begin at 11:34 pm ET, for anyone who is still awake and hoping to see a midnight launch.

Update September 30, 3pm ET: This post has been updated from a previous post, after several launch delays.


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