Wednesday, August 28, 2013

ULA Delta 4: US Largest Rocket Launches Top-Secret Spy Satellite

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 4 Heavy rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) lifted off from Space Launch Complex-6 here at 11:03 a.m. PDT today. 

Designated NROL-65, the mission is in support of national defense. This is ULA’s eighth launch in 2013, the 24th Delta 4 mission and the second Delta 4 Heavy launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Credit: Pat Corkery/United Launch Alliance

The United States' largest rocket launched a spy satellite on a hush-hush mission Wednesday (Aug. 28).

An unmanned Delta 4-Heavy rocket lifted off the pad at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base at 2:03 p.m. EDT (1803 GMT) Wednesday, carrying a classified payload to a polar orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

"Today's launch is dedicated to the men and women who serve for our nation's freedom," a commentator said a few minutes into the liftoff.

It's unclear what intelligence the spacecraft, which is known as NROL-65, will collect as it zips around our planet. Because of the clandestine nature of the mission, it entered a planned media blackout about seven minutes after liftoff.

"We are truly honored to deliver this critical asset to orbit," said Jim Sponnick, United Launch Alliance vice president for the Atlas and Delta Programs. "The ULA Delta 4 Heavy is currently the world's largest rocket, providing the nation with reliable, proven, heavy lift capability for our country’s national security payloads from both the east and west coasts."

The Delta 4 Heavy, which is built by ULA and first flew in 2004, is the biggest and most powerful American rocket in operation today. The 235-foot-tall (72 meters) launcher generates about 2 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, according to ULA officials.

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