The United States is about to launch a secret spy satellite into low-Earth orbit. While the mission is top-secret, news of the upcoming launch has been circling through the media over the last few months — particularly after the liftoff date kept being pushed back for various reasons.
Despite the many delays, the mission finally launches today, Space is reporting. Known as the NROL-71 satellite, the spacecraft is less than two hours away from taking to the skies and will travel to orbit atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket — the most powerful rocket owned by United Launch Alliance (ULA).
The ULA Delta IV rocket will take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, with the launch window opening at 2:05 p.m. EST. Weather forecasters predict a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions for liftoff, ULA announced via Twitter a few hours ago.
Part of a secret mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, the NROL-71 satellite was originally scheduled to launch in early December. However, the spaceflight was postponed several times due to technical issues and bad weather.
The 232-foot-tall Delta IV Heavy rocket has been waiting patiently on its launch pad at Vandenberg for at least three months, as previously reported by the Inquisitr. The long wait is now over, after the mission received a “unanimous go” for launch yesterday following a review led by NROL-71 launch director Lou Mangieri, reports the local newspaper The Tribune.
We are one step closer to launch of the #NROL71 #DeltaIVHeavy today! The mobile service gantry has been fully retracted as the countdown proceeds to the 11:05 am PST launch. Follow our Live Launch Blog for updates: https://t.co/W9zB6LUGpw pic.twitter.com/Wh8sX43PSo— ULA (@ulalaunch) January 19, 2019
“We are proud to launch this critical payload in support of our nation’s national security mission,” Gary Wentz, ULA Vice President of Government and Commercial Programs, said in a statement on Friday.
“As the nation’s premiere launch provider, the teams have worked diligently to ensure continued mission success, delivering our customer’s payloads to the precise orbits requested.”
Based on the previously announced launch date, the NROL-71 mission was supposed to take off exactly a month ago. Nevertheless, the December 19 launch ended up being scrubbed at the very last minute after ULA noticed that the Delta IV Heavy rocket had sprung a hydrogen leak.
This time around, the private space company hopes it won’t run into any more snags — especially since things looked to be progressing smoothly earlier this morning, as ULA teams fueled the massive Delta IV Heavy rocket.
Fueling of the #DeltaIVHeavy is underway at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for today's #NROL71 launch at 11:05 am PST. Follow along with our Live Launch Blog for countdown reports: https://t.co/W9zB6LUGpw pic.twitter.com/Y476hBnuVT— ULA (@ulalaunch) January 19, 2019
The launch of the NROL-71 satellite will be live-streamed on the ULA website. However, the webcast will be a brief one, explains Space, as the private rocket company will only be broadcasting for about six minutes.
Given the classified status of the NROL-71 mission — the satellite’s instruments and activities are top-secret — ULA will cut off the live feed to help preserve the mission’s secrecy.
The watch the NROL-71 satellite soar through the sky atop its rocket carrier tune in to the link below at launch time.
Today’s launch will be the first of the year for ULA’s Delta IV Heavy rocket — and the second spaceflight to take place in the last five months. The rocket has flown many high-profile missions in the past, including NASA’s Parker Solar Probe — which ULA lofted from Cape Canaveral in Florida on August 12, 2018.