For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, FL – Spectators gushed at the spectacular nighttime soar to orbit of a triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket hosting a clandestine spy satellite payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on Thursday, Dec. 10, from Florida’s spaceport after 3 months of numerous delays for a variety of technical and weather reasons from this past summer.
However the day was dramatic to the very end even Thursday evening as further technical delays were experienced as technicians required additional time to complete all preparatory tasks during the rocket rollout Thursday to launch pad 37 at the Cape and the liftoff time was postponed nearly 2 hours from 6:15 p.m. – luckily the launch window extended for four hours thereby allowing sufficient time for the launch team to catch up on all required tasks!
Liftoff of the 23-story tall triple stick United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket on the NROL-44 intelligence gathering mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) finally took place at 8:09 p.m. EDT Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020 (0109 GMT Friday, Dec. 11) from seaside Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida – following five earlier scrubs for a hot fire abort, faulty ground launch pneumatic systems and swing arm problems as well as weather.
This launch counts as the first under the newly rechristened Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
“United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches NROL-44 Mission to Support National Security,” ULA announced.
“MISSION SUCCESS! United Launch Alliance’s #DeltaIVHeavy rocket successfully launched #NROL44 for @NatReconOfc and @SpaceForceDoD. Success #142 for ULA! Thank you to our customers for the trust they place in us!” ULA tweeted.
MISSION SUCCESS! United Launch Alliance's #DeltaIVHeavy rocket successfully launched #NROL44 for @NatReconOfc and @SpaceForceDoD. Success #142 for ULA! Thank you to our customers for the trust they place in us! https://t.co/EGmIn9bXGD pic.twitter.com/js8ljeWp7L
— ULA (@ulalaunch) December 11, 2020
To date ULA, a 50:50 joint venture formed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing in 2006 has launched 142 times with 100 percent mission success.
“142” tweeted ULA CEO Tory Bruno
— Tory Bruno (@torybruno) December 11, 2020
— NRO (@NatReconOfc) December 11, 2020
Due to is top secret classification nothing is known about the clandestine NRO payload or its goals.
Overall was the 29th ULA mission flown for the NRO.
“It takes a dedicated and highly-skilled industry and Government team to ensure a successful launch for this one-of-a-kind national asset,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise.
“We are thrilled to celebrate our 84th consecutive successful launch made possible through our proven mission assurance program.”
The rocket flew off in an easterly trajectory post launch to an orbit thousands of miles above Earth.
See our streak shot below.
Watch this ULA video for further details about the mission profile:
Enjoy our Space UpClose gallery of images of the launch and prelaunch at the pad and the launch attempts on base from the team of Ken Kremer and Jean Wright.
Check back as the gallery grows
Outside analysts speculate that NROL-44 is a signals intelligence satellite launch into geosynchronous orbit circling some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth in a near equatorial orbit – since it flew east
Overall this launch was the 385th Delta rocket launch since 1960 and the 292nd to occur at Cape Canaveral.
It is the 12th Delta IV Heavy and the 8th Heavy for the NRO.
Only 5 Delta IV Heavy launches remain in the ULA manifest before is is retired and replaced by the ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket currently under development.
“Congratulations to our NRO, ULA, and 45th Space Wing team for a successful NROL-44 launch,” said Col. Erin Gulden, chief of SMC’s Launch Enterprise Atlas and Delta branch, in a statement..
“This NRO mission marks 10 out of 10 successful National Security Space Vehicles we have launched aboard a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket since 2009. We look forward to continuing our NRO partnership launching national security payloads with the final four Delta IV Heavy launches.”
“We are honored to launch the first payload from the newly renamed Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. I want to thank our mission partners for their collaboration and teamwork as we worked through technical challenges that culminated in the launch of this critical national security payload,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs, in a statement.
“The Delta IV Heavy again demonstrated its success as the nation’s proven heavy lift vehicle, through its unique capability to deliver this mission to orbit due to a combination of performance and fairing size.”
The Delta IV Heavy stands 235-feet-tall (71-meter).
This Delta IV Heavy was comprised of three common core boosters each powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine producing a combined total of more than 2.1 million pounds of thrust.
The second stage was powered by an AR RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.
The 2nd stage performs multiple critical firing to place the top secret payload into its intended orbit.
My comments on WFTV Ch 9 ABC News Orlando about rapid cadence of Space Coast launches this week ! 3 total from ULA and SpaceX and officially renaming the bases. Now Cape Canaveral Space Force station. Aired Dec 10.
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about SpaceX Cargo and Crew Dragons, Starlink, Commercial Crew and Artemis and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew-1, Starlink, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020, NRO spysats 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.
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