Most Powerful Rocket in Operation Poised to Launch Classified Satallite

Image courtesy of United Launch Alliance

Image courtesy of United Launch Alliance

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Delta IV Heavy stands ready to launch a classified defense satellite tomorrow afternoon for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Designated NROL-37, this will be the 32nd launch of ULA's Delta IV rocket, and the 10th for the NRO aboard the most powerful rocket currently in operation - the Delta IV Heavy.

Existing as a secret, classified organization from its establishment in 1961, the NRO wasn’t publicly recognized in any official capacity until the office’s declassification 1992. Since its inception until now, the NRO has coordinated reconnaissance services for a myriad of government agencies. The CIA, NSA, U.S. Navy and Air Force, and the Department of Defense are all served by the NRO, which oversees the design, construction, launch, and maintenance of government intelligence satellites. 

Currently the most powerful rocket available, ULA’s Delta IV Heavy has the ability to deliver nearly 50,000 lbs into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and up to 30,000 lbs into Geostationary Orbit (GTO). The launch vehicle is lifted by three Earth-shaking liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen fueled core boosters, exerting 2.1 million pounds of thrust at launch to lift the 800 ton vehicle configuration off the ground.

Officially launched "in support of national defense," the rocket's cryogenic second stage will carry NROL-37 to an undesignated orbit, where it will presumably begin its mission. This will be ULA’s ninth flight of the Delta IV Heavy, and its first since the launch of NASA’s Orion capsule for Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) in support of NASA’s Journey to Mars.

Image courtesy of United Launch Alliance

Lifting off from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, NROL-37 was Originally slated for June 4. However, the NRO requested a flight postponement for undisclosed reasons in the week prior, moving the target date to June 9. 

Now, standing under the cover of the Mobile Service Tower in which it was assembled, the Delta IV Heavy's current shelter will roll away early tomorrow morning. The launch window for NROL-37, the duration of which is also undisclosed, opens Thursday, June 9 at 1:59pm ET.

The 45th Weather Squadron and Space Wing, a branch of the U.S. Air Force that has provided weather assessments of launch conditions since the days of the space shuttle, reports a 40% chance of favorable conditions for Thursday’s launch. In the event of a scrub, a secondary window will open sometime Saturday.

Watch the launch LIVE starting Thursday, June 9 at 1:39pm ET.