For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A top secret intelligence gathering spy satellite for the secretive U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) sitting atop a mighty United Launch Alliance (ULA) triple barreled Delta IV Heavy rocket is all set to kick off a trio of Florida Space Coast launches overnight Aug. 27 – concluding a busy August with a tremendous finale of blastoffs including a duo of SpaceX Falcon 9’s for three in just half a weeks’ time; if all goes well!
And the weather for the first of the trio in the middle of the night Thursday, Aug. 27, namely the ULA Delta IV Heavy carrying the NROL-44 classified intelligence gathering satellite for the US government NRO spy agency is looking very promising at this point.
With less than 12 hours before liftoff the weather odds are 80% GO.
Liftoff of the 23-story tall triple stick United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket on the NROL-44 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is slated for 2:12 a.m. EDT (0612 GMT) Augh. 27, 2020 from seaside Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Three rocket launches from three different launch pads bunched up so close is very rare – and the drama is palpable especially with this being one of the final Delta IV Heavy launches.
Only 5 of this D4H vehicle remain until it is retired forever – to be replaced by ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket.
“It could be a historic week for us,” said 45th Space Wing Commander Brig. Gen Doug Schiess at a media briefing this week.
The other two lauches this week are both SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets provisionally slated for Aug. 28 carrying the Argentinian radar imaging satellite SAOCOM 1B and Aug. 29 carrying the 12th batch of SpaceX Starlink broadband internet satellites.
But the NRO spysat has top priority on the US military Eastern Range and any delay with force the two SpaceX launches to move to the right.
Enjoy our Space UpClose gallery of images from the team of Ken Kremer and Jean Wright.
Delta IV Heavy rocket launches are rather rare and thus extremely special !
The prior Delta IV Heavy rocket launch from Cape Canaveral involved NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and took place two years ago also in the middle of the night on Aug. 12, 2018.
Check out our earlier Parker Solar Probe articles and photos.
You can watch the launch live at a ULA webcast beginning about 20 minutes before liftoff available at :
The ULA launch webcast begins Thursday, Aug. 27 at 1:52 a.m. (0552 GMT)
The launch time opens at 2:12 a.m. EDT (0612 GMT) Aug. 27. The launch window extends four hours until 6:25 a.m. EDT.
A back up launch window opportunity is available on Friday, Aug. 28.
Virtually nothing is known about the clandestime NROL-44 mission – except that it will fly due East.
Here is a launch visibility map from ULA:
The two stage triple core Delta IV Heavy rocket stands 235 ft tall (71.6 m).
The first stage is comprised of three Common Core Boosters (CBCs) powered by RS-68A engines fueled by LOX and LH2 that generates a combined 2.1 million pounds of liftoff thrust.
The side booster separate and are jettisoned just prior to 4 minutes after liftoff
The upper stage is a Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS) powered by a single RL10B-2 engine fueled by LOX and LH2 that generates 24,750 pounds of thrust.
The payload in encapsulated in a metallic trisector 5 m diameter payload fairing that is 19.8 m (65 ft) long to protect it from the harsh environment and friction moving through the atmosphere. It is jettisoned 6 minutes and 38 seconds after liftoff.
Launch weather forecast for Aug. 27 from the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron is very good.
Primary concerns: Cumulus Cloud Rule
“The launch weather forecast for this evening’s Delta IV Heavy countdown and overnight liftoff of NROL-44 remains favorable with an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions.”
“Launch Weather Officer Will Ulrich says there is only a slight concern for violation of the Cumulus Cloud Rule at the 2:12 a.m. EDT (0612 UTC) launch opportunity.”
“There have been no significant changes to the forecast reasoning. Pockets of drier air embedded within deep easterly flow will bring below normal rain chances through early Thursday, with only a small chance for onshore-moving showers. Conditions look favorable for MST Roll this evening, and the primary concern during the launch window Thursday morning remains the Cumulus Cloud Rule,” the launch weather team says.
The operations forecast includes scattered low clouds and some high cirrus clouds, a chance of an isolated shower, good visibility, easterly winds 10 to 15 knots and a temperature near 81 degrees F.
Weather remains at 80% GO for the back-up launch window opportunity available on Friday, Aug. 28.
Primary Concerns: Cumulus Cloud Rule, Thick Cloud Layer Rule
LAUNCH ALERT: The launch weather forecast for this evening’s #DeltaIVHeavy countdown and overnight liftoff of #NROL44 at 2:12amEDT (0612 UTC) remains favorable with an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions. Read more details on the forecast: https://t.co/GKgbdk3wMm pic.twitter.com/kO0e4gzLrl
— ULA (@ulalaunch) August 26, 2020
Overall this will be 141st mission for United Launch Alliance (50:50 joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin) and the 29th for the NRO.
It is the 385th Delta launch since 1960, the 12th Delta IV Heavy and the 8th Heavy for the NRO.
Only 5 Delta IV Heavy launches remain in the ULA manifest.
The Mobile Service Tower at Space Launch Complex-37 has been retracted and secured in the launch position, revealing the United Launch Alliance #DeltaIVHeavy rocket for the #NROL44 launch. Follow our live launch blog for updates at: https://t.co/GKgbdk3wMm pic.twitter.com/1rv4Q6ug4N
— ULA (@ulalaunch) August 26, 2020
The MST was rolled back this evening.
The MST gantry stands 330 feet tall, weighs nearly 10 million pounds and is the integral element that enables vertical integration of payloads atop #DeltaIVHeavy. It is being wheeled on tracks about the length of a football field away from the rocket for tonight's #NROL44 launch. pic.twitter.com/c2CFqTwLae
— ULA (@ulalaunch) August 26, 2020
Watch my Aug. 25 commentary at WKMG CBS 6 TV News Orlando
Video Caption: It’s going to be a busy three days on the Space Coast with three rocket launches scheduled for a history-making line up but to make this triple-header happen, the weather and rocketry must align. Credit: James Sparvero/CBS 6
Watch my Aug. 14 guest host and Aug 3 interview appearances at ‘Stay Curious’ show at the American Space Museum about successful Mars Perseverance launch, successful splashdown SpaceX Crew Dragon on Demo-2 1st commercial mission as well as upcoming Crew-1, Artemis Moon mission, SpaceX Starlink and more:
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Commercial Crew and Artemis and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Demo-2, Starlink, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events
Aug 26 – 7 PM: Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL. “ULA Delta IV Heavy, NASA Mars 2020 rover and SpaceX Crew-1, Demo-2, GPS, Starlink and more launches.” Free. In hotel lobby. Photos for sale