Delta IV Heavy launches classified NRO payload from California
A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket took the the skies from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to send the secretive NROL-82 payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Liftoff took place at 1:47 p.m. PDT (20:47 UTC) April 26, 2021, from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 6, a historic pad originally built and modified to support the West Coast space shuttle missions. The vehicle appeared to fly perfectly, with nominal booster separation, then center core separation, second stage start and payload fairing jettison, according to ULA. A few minutes later, however, the live webcast concluded at the request of the National Reconnaissance Office due to the highly-secretive nature of the payload.
“ULA is proud of our long-standing history supporting national security space,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government & Commercial Operations spoke on the continuing partnership of ULA and the NRO. “The unmatched performance of the Delta IV Heavy is essential for launching some of our nation’s most critical national security space missions and we look forward to delivering this critical asset to space.”
Comprised of three common core boosters, each powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A engine, the 230-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) Delta IV Heavy is among the titans of todays launch world, second only to the SpaceX Falcon Heavy in overall power. The launch was the 42nd overall for the rocket series, and the 13th of the rocket’s Heavy configuration.
Following this launch, only three Delta IV rockets remain, all in the Heavy configuration supporting NRO payloads. The launches are each currently scheduled to fly in subsequent calendar years, with the next one, NROL-68, again launching from Vandenberg in 2022.
Video courtesy of SciNews
Matt Haskell is a published aviation and spaceflight photographer and writer based in Merritt Island Florida. Born and raised outside Edwards Air Force Base and NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, he moved to Florida’s Space Coast and began photographing and reporting spaceflight professionally full time in 2018.