After weeks of delays due to faulty equipment and bad weather, the United Launch Alliance must launch its most powerful missile from Cape Canaveral, Florida, setting up a classified spy satellite for the National Intelligence Service. The mission is finally ready to fly a month after the first rocket launch, which was interrupted just three seconds before takeoff.
The rocket that embarks on the ULA mission is the Delta IV Heavy, a giant vehicle that consists of three rocket cores linked together to provide extra thrust. This is one of the most powerful rockets in the world, although it does not reach the power of Falcon Heavy on SpaceX. The ULA doesn̵
The payload of the missile is NROL-44 and like all NRO missions, its purpose is hidden in secret. The Office simply notes that “NROL-44 supports the NRO’s overall national security mission of providing intelligence to senior politicians in the United States, the intelligence community and the Department of Defense.” The ULA has already launched 29 NRO missions, many of which needed the Delta IV Heavy.
The ULA was scheduled to launch NROL-44 in the wee hours of the morning of August 29. The ULA counted down to seconds before takeoff, with the main engines of the Delta IV Heavy igniting briefly. But the engines quickly shut down and the rocket remained stationary on the launch pad. The ULA later learned that a piece of ground equipment had failed, leading to an abortion. The company took several weeks to replace the defective equipment.
Additional problems with the equipment of the launch pad again shifted the start time, but the ULA hopes to get out this week. Unfortunately, the weather is not pleasant, as bad conditions postpone the attempts on Monday and Tuesday. But finally, there’s a 70 percent chance that time will work together to launch tonight – so maybe today is the day.
The Delta IV Heavy is scheduled to take off on Tuesday at 11:54 p.m. ET from the ULA launch pad at the Air Force on Cape Canaveral. The ULA launch blog will begin at 3:15 p.m. ET, and its webcast will begin at 11:34 p.m. ET for anyone who is still awake and hoping to catch a midnight launch.
Updated September 30, 3:00 PM ET: This post has been updated by an older post, after repeated launch delays.