MAY 9, 2020–A spy satellite set to fly aboard United Launch Alliance’s triple-core Delta IV Heavy rocket has been pushed back from June to late August, according to military officials.
The Delta IV Heavy is slated to carry a highly classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite into orbit, likely targeting a geosynchronous orbit set almost 36,000 kilometers over any point on Earth. The satellite is so far known to be an Orion-type Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) satellite.
The mission was previously supposed to launch at some point in June, but was rescheduled for August 26, as reported by Spaceflight Now. To add, military officials did not disclose a reason for the two-month delay.
Last November, the Delta IV Heavy rocket for the NROL-44 mission was transferred to the Cape Canaveral Complex 37B launch pad. After being raised by the 37B Fixed Pad Erector in order to complete the Launch Vehicle on Stand (LVOS) milestone, a wet dress rehearsal was successfully completed on January 10, 2020.
The vehicle was fully fueled with around 465,000 gallons (nearly 1.8 million liters) of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, all the way up to the cutoff at T- 10 seconds. This tests every part of the countdown except for ignition, as the RS-68 engines are expendable and not made to be static fired.
ULA has paused all further testing until closer to the launch date.
ULA currently has five more Delta IV Heavy launches left on its manifest through 2023, all NRO launches that the NRO claims can not fly on any other rocket. This is currently due to the fact that many NRO satellites must be integrated vertically, and other launch providers do not currently have the capability to do so. Also, no other launch vehicle is currently able to do the multiple, high-energy burns required for a direct geostationary launch.
Finally, ULA is also targeting a launch sometime in Q4 2020 of the NROL-82 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The mission is also flying on a Delta IV Heavy, of which the final core arrived earlier this week aboard ULA’s RocketShip.
Go NROL-44, Go Delta, Go ULA.