Spaceflight Insider

Delta IV launch of NROL-47 to be ULA’s first of 2018

The launch of the NROL-47 mission has been delayed to no-earlier-than Jan. 10, 2018. Photo Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

The launch of the NROL-47 mission has been delayed to no-earlier-than Jan. 10, 2018. Photo Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

United launch Alliance’s (ULA) first flight of 2018 is currently scheduled for Wednesday, January 10. A Delta IV Medium+(5,2) rocket is set to carry the  classified NROL-47 payload from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 6 at 1 p.m. PST (4 p.m. EST). The mission will be ULA’s 27th flight for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the 36th for the Delta IV rocket, which first flew in 2002.

Image Credit: ULA

Image Credit: ULA

The NRO is the U.S, Government agency in charge of designing, building, launching and maintaining America’s fleet of intelligence satellites. The agency was formed  in 1961 and was declassified to the public in 1992.  NROL-47 will be NRO’s 50th launch since 1996.

While little is known about the classified payload the Delta IV rocket is carrying, NROL-47 is believed to be a radar reconnaissance satellite that will be placed into a retrograde orbit inclined some 123 degrees. The satellite will join a constellation of other spacecraft called the Future Imagery Architecture, flying under the code name Topaz.

NROL-45, using the same rocket configuration, launched from the same launch complex at Vandenberg on February 10, 2016.

“We are ready and eager to take on this Delta launch,” said Col. Greg Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, is the space launch commander via a release issued by the Wing. “We are proud to provide this national defense capability and every Team V member involved has tirelessly worked to ensure the launch is safe and successful.”

Final preparations for the launch of NROL-47 began in December of 2017.  The launch was originally scheduled to take place on December 13, 2017, but was pushed back until January 10, 2018 in order to perform additional tests on the software and other systems associated with Common Avionics.

Common Avionics is a new suite of avionics, flight software and ground systems that will be used on both the Atlas V and Delta IV family of rockets. NROL-47 will be the first launch of the Common Avionics system on Delta IV. ULA plans to use Common Avionics on all future Delta IV and Atlas V launches.

There are three variants of the Delta IV Medium+ booster. The Delta IV M+(4,2) uses two Aerojet Rocketdyne-provided strap-on solid rocket motors (SRMs) to augment the common booster core (CBC) and a 4-meter diameter payload fairing. The Delta IV M+(5,2) and the Delta IV M+(5,4) have two and four SRMs, respectively, and a 5-meter payload fairing. If everything continues to go as planned NROL-47 will be the final launch of the Delta IV M+(5,2) variant.

One of the more colorful aspects of classified NRO launches has been the agency’s outlandish mission patches. The logo for NROL-47, which depicts an armored knight fighting a dragon and bears the Latin motto “Mali Nunquam Praevalebunt” (Evil will never prevail) is no exception. In a recent tweet, the NRO stated “It depicts a battle between good and evil and signifies dedication to mission, military expertise and camaraderie.”

ULA’s second launch of 2018 is slated to take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on January 18. The fourth satellite under the U.S. Air Force’s Space Based Infrared Sensor – Geostationary (SBIRS-Geo 4), is scheduled to launch atop a ULA Atlas V 411 rocket from Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41). The SBIRS-Geo satellite constellation is being sent aloft so as to provide early warning of intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

“The 4th Space Launch Squadron’s mission assurance technicians, engineers, and program managers are laser-focused on ensuring that all flight hardware, infrastructure, and facilities are ready to go for launch,” said Maj. Allen Varghese, 4th Space Launch Squadron director of operations via a release. “Our squadron has worked side-by-side with ULA personnel over the past several months to ensure this mission’s success.”

Video courtesy of ULA

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Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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