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ULA Delta IV Launches Classified Spy Satellite into Orbit

Don’t miss the breathtaking United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy launch from the sunny shores of Florida.

Alliance Delta IV
A ULA Delta 4 Heavy rocket launched an NRO satellite on June 22, 2023, at 5:18 a.m. Eastern from Space Launch Complex-37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. Credit: ULA livestream

In a thrilling display of technological prowess, United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully blasted off a classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spy satellite into the vast expanse of space. The awe-inspiring spectacle took place at the crack of dawn, precisely at 5:18 a.m. Eastern, from the illustrious Space Launch Complex-37 (SLC-37) nestled within the hallowed grounds of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

This momentous launch was not without its fair share of anticipation and anticipation. ULA, ever the consummate professionals, made a valiant second attempt after a slight hiccup delayed the initial launch scheduled for June 21. The company cited an issue with a ground systems pneumatic valve as the culprit behind the temporary setback. Nevertheless, undeterred by the minor setback, ULA pressed forward, undaunted and resolute.

As the Delta 4 Heavy rocket soared into the heavens, the sheer magnitude of its power was on full display. Approximately four minutes into the flight, the outer boosters of the mighty three-core Delta 4 Heavy gracefully detached, shedding their weight and gracefully descending back to Earth. Shortly thereafter, at the two-minute mark, the second stage majestically followed suit, bidding farewell to its celestial counterpart.

However, as the mysterious veil of secrecy enveloped the proceedings, the NRO, in its inscrutable wisdom, requested ULA to bring the webcast to an abrupt halt, merely seven minutes into the flight. It was at this pivotal juncture, upon the jettisoning of the nose fairing, that the mission’s delicate details became shrouded in secrecy, known only to those entrusted with safeguarding our nation’s interests.

Credit: ULA
Credit: ULA

Designated as NROL-68, this momentous launch marked the Delta 4 Heavy’s fifteenth and penultimate endeavor before embarking on a well-deserved retirement. A true stalwart of the skies, this venerable vehicle took its final bow on the West Coast in 2022, leaving an indelible mark on the annals of space exploration.

In a moment of tremendous pride and achievement, ULA commemorated the commencement of the new year, 2023, with this historic mission. Back in May 2019, the company earned the esteemed honor of being awarded a coveted U.S. Air Force contract to launch NROL-68, thus solidifying its status as a formidable force in the realm of space endeavors. The awe-inspiring Delta 4 Heavy configuration first graced the heavens in December 2004, setting the stage for a legacy steeped in groundbreaking triumphs.

Behind the brawn and power of the Delta 4 Heavy lies a symphony of cutting-edge technology. Each of its common booster cores is propelled by the mighty RS-68A main engines, courtesy of Aerojet Rocketdyne. As for the Delta cryogenic second stage, it is imbued with the unstoppable force of the RL10C-2-1 engine, truly a testament to human ingenuity. Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen course through the veins of this extraordinary rocket, lending it the fiery vigor required to conquer the celestial realm.

The future holds many promises and adventures for ULA. Under a contract of utmost importance, they are entrusted with launching yet another NRO satellite on the Delta 4 Heavy in 2024, a celestial symphony that will grace the captivating shores of Cape Canaveral. Following this noble quest, ULA will bid a fond farewell to the Delta 4 Heavy, making way for the eagerly anticipated arrival of the Vulcan Centaur rocket, a new dawn in the realm of interstellar exploration.

Lt. Col. Scott Carstetter, an esteemed Atlas 5 and Delta 4 materiel leader at the Space Systems Command, shed light on the grand tapestry of endeavors awaiting ULA. NROL-68 is merely the opening chapter in an enthralling saga, with four missions slated for ULA’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4 in the twilight year of Atlas/Delta operations. The stage is set, the cosmos awaits, and ULA stands poised to etch its name in the celestial firmament.

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