After a long delay, ULA’s most powerful rocket is set to launch classified spy satellite


After several weeks of delays due to faulty equipment and inclement weather, the United Launch Alliance is set to launch its most powerful rocket out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, losing a classified spy satellite to the National Reconnaissance Office . The mission is set to fly a full month after the rocket’s first launch attempt, which was aborted just three seconds before liftoff.

The rocket going on ULA’s mission is Delta IV Heavy, a massive vehicle consisting of three rocket cores that thrust together. It is one of the most powerful rockets in the world, although it falls short of the power packaged in SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. The ULA Delta IV does not fly Heavy very often, as it is an expensive vehicle to build, but the company uses rockets for large, heavy satellites, which go for super-high orbits.

The rocket’s payload is NOR-44, and like all NRO missions, its purpose lies in secrecy. The office simply noted that “NROL-44 supports NRO’s overall national security mission to provide intelligence data to senior policy makers in the United States, the intelligence community, and the Department of Defense.” ULA has already launched 29 missions for the NRO, many of which require Delta IV Heavy.

Ulla was set to launch the NROL-44 in the early morning hours on 29 August. ULA counted all the way down, with a brief ignition of Delta IV Heavy’s main engines, just seconds before liftoff. But the engines quickly shut down and the rocket was fixed to the launchpad. The obverse later revealed that a piece of ground equipment had failed, causing an abortion. It took the company a few weeks to replace the faulty equipment.

Further problems with the devices on the launchpad pushed the launch time back again, but ULA expects to be off the field this week. Unfortunately the weather has not deteriorated with efforts delayed on Monday and Tuesday. But ultimately, there is a 70 percent chance that the weather will cooperate to launch tonight – so perhaps today is the day.

Delta IV Heavy is scheduled to land at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday at 11:54 PM ET from the launch site of ULA. ULA’s launch blog will begin at 3:15 PM ET, and its webcast will begin at 11:34 PM ET, which is still awake and expected to launch at midnight.

Update September 30, 3:00 pm This post has been updated from an earlier post after several launch delays.

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