The fleet of U.S. spy satellites has simply welcomed a brand new member.
The NROL-47 spacecraft soared into Earth orbit right this moment (Jan. 12), using atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Medium rocket that lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:11 p.m. EST (2211 GMT, 2:11 p.m. native California time).
NROL-47 can be operated by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds and manages the United States’ spy satellites. NRO missions are typically hush-hush, and NROL-47 is not any exception; no particulars have been launched concerning the satellite tv for pc’s deliberate actions. [The Secret NROL-47 Spy Satellite Launch in Photos]
However, we will make a number of inferences. Today’s launch employed the “5,2” variant of the Delta IV — which means the rocket featured a 5-meter-wide (16.5 ft) payload fairing and two strong rocket boosters strapped to the core stage.
“That model of the Delta IV has flown solely twice earlier than, and analysts who monitor area actions consider each launches — in 2012 and 2016 — hauled so-called Topaz radar reconnaissance satellites into orbit,” Spaceflight Now’s Stephen Clark wrote in late December.
Today’s launch was the primary of the 12 months for ULA, which is a partnership between aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ULA has now launched 27 satellites for the NRO, together with three final 12 months, all of which lifted off atop Atlas V rockets.
The two-stage, 217-foot-tall (66 m) Delta IV now has a complete of 36 area missions underneath its belt, ULA representatives mentioned. The rocket has been flying since 2002, when it was solely a Boeing car. (ULA shaped in December 2006.)
This afternoon’s liftoff was delayed two days, first by sturdy winds after which by a problem with a ground-system valve. NROL-47 ended up taking to the skies 5 days after one other national-security launch, that of the mysterious Zuma payload by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The Zuma mission seems to be a failure, although what precisely occurred is unclear for the time being. SpaceX representatives have said the Falcon 9’s performance met expectations; hypothesis is at present centering on a potential downside with the satellite tv for pc’s separation from the rocket’s higher stage.