The last Delta 4 Heavy boosted a spy satellite into the sky

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Ending an era in U.S. rocketry, United Launch Alliance fired off its 16th and final triple-core Delta 4 Heavy Tuesday, launching a classified spy satellite in the last hurrah of a storied family of rockets dating back to the dawn of the space age.
In keeping with standard NRO-U.S. Space Force policy for such missions, no details about the NROL-70 payload were released.
But about six hours after launch, the National Reconnaissance Office declared the launch a success, indicating the satellite reached its planned orbit.
“But it’s a little bit more special because it is going to be the last flight of the Delta 4 Heavy.
“Launching the last Delta 4 is bittersweet for me,” Col. Eric Zarybnisky, director of NRO’s Office of Space Launch, said in a statement.
“I want to thank everyone who has been involved with the Delta 4 Heavy.
The single-core Delta 4 and triple-core Heavy were expensive, with some versions of the Heavy reportedly selling for more than $300 million each.
Tuesday’s launch was the 45th flight of a Delta 4 and the 16th and final Delta 4 Heavy.


bringing an end to a period in U. S. In the penultimate flight of a legendary rocket family that dates back to the early days of space exploration, United Launch Alliance launched a classified spy satellite on Tuesday with its sixteenth and last triple-core Delta 4 Heavy.

At 12:53 p.m., the three hydrogen-fueled RS-68A first stage engines aboard the Heavy burst into a bright orange flame rush. me. EDT, removing the 235-foot-tall rocket from pad 37 at the Florida-based Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with ease.

A pump in a system that supplies nitrogen gas to several launch pads via a pipeline passing through the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station needed to be replaced, which is mainly why the launch was delayed by twelve days. Tuesday went without a hitch.

Atop the rocket was a classified satellite provided by the National Reconnaissance Office, a covert government organization that oversees the country’s array of advanced optical and radar imaging reconnaissance satellites as well as electronic listening posts.

in accordance with NRO-U standards. s. According to Space Force policy, no information regarding the NROL-70 payload was made public. But the National Reconnaissance Office declared the launch a success about six hours after it took place, indicating the satellite had entered its intended orbit.

Before the rocket’s first attempt at launch, NRO Director Chris Scolese told reporters, “All of our missions are really important, and this one ranks up there.”. However, it’s even more noteworthy because it’s the final flight of the Delta 4 Heavy.

Like all of our missions, these are centered around national security and providing our policy makers, the warfighter, and the civilian community with the best information available. ****.

Independent analysts concluded the payload was most likely an advanced signals intelligence satellite headed for a geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the equator based on the Heavy’s easterly trajectory, safety notices, and other factors.

That height allows for continuous observations of particular regions because the satellites appear stationary in the sky because they orbit in sync with Earth’s rotation.

It is thought that these signals intelligence satellites have enormous mesh antennas that expand in space and function as “huge dots.”. “ears” in the sky, keeping a close eye on wide swaths for radio emissions, particularly from military (communications),” as stated by independent Dutch analyst Marco Langbroek.

“There really isn’t much that I can say other than it’s a national security payload that’s going to provide exquisite capability that is needed by a lot of people and organizations, clearly the policy makers, the warfighter and others so that they can know what’s going on,” Scolese said reporters when they were specifically asked about the nature of the NROL-70 satellite. “.

Regardless, ULA concluded its launch coverage seven minutes after liftoff with confirmation of the ignition of the second stage engine and the separation of the payload fairing, as is customary for classified missions. Confidentiality prevailed throughout the remainder of the climb.

For the managers, engineers, and technicians who assembled and launched the last rocket in the family, seeing the last Delta rocket appear 63 years after the first variant’s first flight was an emotional milestone.

For me, it’s bittersweet to launch the final Delta 4. The director of NRO’s Office of Space Launch, Eric Zarybnisky, stated in a statement. “I participated in the group that launched the first Delta 4 for the NRO. Ever since, the Delta 4 has boosted this country’s incredible potential in orbit. “.”.

United Launch Alliance’s president and CEO, Tory Bruno, described the flight as a “bittersweet” occasion as the business continues to phase out its more costly Delta and Atlas families in favor of next-generation Vulcan rockets.

After launch, he made the following announcement in a prerecorded video: “Vulcan will pick up that mantle and we’re going to retire this venerable rocket that has made so much important work for our country.”.

“I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who helped with the Delta 4 Heavy. To send off this fantastic vehicle into its well-earned retirement, we have many employees who were present for the first Delta 4 launch and are now here for the final Delta 4 launch. ****.

Terminating the Delta line “is obviously the future, moving to Vulcan, a less expensive, higher-performance rocket,” he had earlier told reporters. Still, it’s depressing. “.

It was said that certain models of the triple-core Heavy, which sold for over $300 million each, and the single-core Delta 4 were pricey processors. Although the program was able to place critical military payloads into difficult-to-reach orbits, it was deemed unsustainable in the face of a growing number of smaller, more numerous satellites and less expensive SpaceX boosters.

With origins in the nation’s early space program, the Delta family of stages and rockets saw multiple iterations that were utilized to launch military, NASA, and commercial payloads into orbit. Initially, they were part of the nation’s fleet of intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

In 1990, the now-retired Delta 2 launched the first GPS satellites into orbit and launched numerous planetary explorations into deep space, such as the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Messenger spacecraft to Mercury, several Mars orbiters, the Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity Mars rovers, and many more.

In 2002, the single-core Delta 4 made its maiden flight, and two years later, the first Heavy took to the air. The program’s last flight was conducted in 2019 with the single-core version. The 45th flight of a Delta 4 and the 16th and last Delta 4 Heavy were launched on Tuesday.

About the Delta family, Bruno remarked, “We love this rocket, but we’re very excited to come in with Vulcan and fly these missions…”.

He continued, “Delta has existed for 60 years in one form or another.”. It simply has a rich history and has greatly benefited our country. Though I personally regret to see Vulcan go, we’re very proud to have been a part of it. “.”.

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