Delta IV Heavy Roars Off Launch Pad on Secret NRO Mission


CAPE CANAVERAL — United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, sending a classified surveillance satellite to space. Liftoff occurred on Nov. 21 at 5:58 p.m. EDT. The enormous rocket thundered to life, and as almost to underscore the secretive nature of the mission, the fiery exhaust was only visible for a short while before disappearing into thick clouds. However, long after the rocket was out of view, it made its journey known through its roar. The vibration was so visceral that vehicles and windows of buildings in the immediate area began to rattle with the raw power that was unleashed.

The massive Delta IV makes its presence known - even from a distance of several miles. Photo Credit: Universe Today/Alan Walters -

U.S. Air Force’ meteorologists predicted a 90 percent chance of acceptable weather for the launch, with only a tiny chance that winds could exceed the 20-knot limit. Winds were not an issue however and by all accounts the vehicle performed flawlessly.

The first launch attempt of the classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite was scrubbed Friday during fueling of the Delta IV. Technicians determined that the reason for the scrub on Nov. 19 was a faulty sensor. The sensor gave incorrect temperature readings that were detected in the rocket’s three first-stage boosters. Technicians believed (correctly so) that they had resolved the issue.

Sunday's launch is the third successful flight for the Delta IV Heavy. Photo Credit: Universe Today/Alan Walters -

The launch team rolled back the 330-foot mobile service tower earlier in the day and pumped approximately 450,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the twin boosters.

Tonight’s launch marked the third operational flight of the massive Delta IV Heavy since its first demonstration flight back in December of 2004.

“This mission helps to ensure that vital NRO resources will continue to bolster our national defense,” said Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, 45th Space Wing commander. “The spectacular evening launch showcases how the 45th assures access to the high frontier and supports global operations.”

51 Replies to “Delta IV Heavy Roars Off Launch Pad on Secret NRO Mission”

  1. It’s tragic that was waste so much of our resources on “defense”. Spy satellites like this one only serve to perpetuate unnecessary violence and discord.

  2. Collecting intelligence is important to sustain peace. Now TSA grabbing your junk is a different story.

  3. I think, without the drive for defence, space flight would be much less expensive. As soon as military is involved, the idea pops up that spending too less money for defence may cost freedom. Thus, the fight for freedom is taken for an excuse to empty the taxpayers´ pockets.
    In the 1970ees, people realized that ball-pens don´t function in zero gravity. Therefore, NASA had a zero-gravity-proof ball-pen developed, at a cost of $500.000.
    The Russians did not develop such a device, they instead switched to using pencils. They perform excellently in zero gravity and in vaccuum conditions, and they cost 3 cents each.
    Before the X-prize, everyone said it is impossible to fulfil the task of building and operating a manned spacecraft at a cost below billions and billions of dollars. Then, Spaceship 1 flew, and its price tag was just a few millions.

  4. Gbendt, that story isn’t true. It’s an old wives’ tale.

    NASA used pencils too. They were also smart enough to realize that using a friction based writing implement in a 100% oxygen environment was eventually going to cause a devastating fire that would lose them a spacecraft (also, the lead shavings and broken pieces of lead become very dangerous in microgravity. They can jam buttons and switches if they lodge in the wrong place).

    Thus, NASA developed the pen. IIRC, the Russians use those expensive pens too, and have for a long time.

  5. EMILIO said: “Collecting intelligence is important to sustain peace.”

    By that logic I should be peeping into my neighbor’s windows? Would that guarantee the safety of my property?

    Trust, honest dialog, and concessions could go a long way in encouraging a similar reciprocal response. Over time, everyone could draw down their wasteful military expenditures. It might even become universally taboo to build up militarily might like it is here in Canada.

    The day when a country is isolated and frowned upon for investing in military technology will be a great one indeed.

  6. FRED: You said it all in one statement, you are canadian. Is you neighbor bombing your children? Is your neighbor launching cyber attacks on your house? Is your neighbor CONSTANTLY trying to learn your secrets and steal your money? Is your neighbor squatting in your backyard like illegal immigrants are here? Come on man, lets keep it real. You cannot compare your neighbors to the world stage. Without US technology, military AND SACRIFICE OF LIFE you and the rest of the world would be speaking German, so chill out. We have made our mistakes, certainly, however without the US this world would have long ago gone to hell in a handbasket.

  7. There are some very clear reasons a large body of the world’s population dislike Americans. Most of this stems from a history of poor foreign policy. I’m not disputing their actions are wrong, but certainly you must see there is a flip side to this coin.

    The good thing is foreign policy can be changed, reparations can be made, and the US can stop talking down to it’s neighbors. This would help to slowly alleviate tension in the long run. Th US certainly has the capacity to do this.Unfortunately, despite the releaving change of leadership, few efforts have been made by the Obama administration to deescalate tensions.

    Lets not go into World War discussions, as the present situation is not a stand off between imperialist powers and disgruntled nations.

    Not sure what you are getting at with the German stuff… that front already turned in favor of the allies before the US got involved. You can thank Russia for that.

  8. Without the US Europe would have fallen under Nazi control, fact. Great Britian was F****D before US involvement, the two front war that led to Hitlers demise was greatly extended because of the US, without our sacrifice old Adolph would have been able to turn his full attention and military might to the Soviets and that would have changed everything!

    How bout the 13 billion dollars (in 1948 money!) we gave Europe to rebuild? (via the Marshall Plan). Ya, were jerks.

    And way to not address any of my other points on the reasons for maximum defense expenditure.

    Present situations have changed, however the United States role in the world as peacemaker has not. We do the best we can, we TRY, unlike (in general) you passive, no stones Canadians.

  9. Without the US Europe would have fallen under Nazi control, fact.

    This is an interesting area for discussion. I wrote a paper not to long ago on American WWII popular misconceptions regarding their role on the western front. Indeed, a a large portion of the population believes that the US had an absolutely decisive role in defeating the Nazis.

    What is curious about this misconception is that US history textbook are generally pretty clear on US involvement. However, the media, especially the motion picture industry has portrayed Americans as the primary drivers to ultimate victory. They are fantasized as “elite” war hardened troops. When in reality, the early US actions in the African front portray what a very different reality.

    Moreover, later US/Soviet tensions played a part in popular culture’s revisionist look at soviet involvement. Today, few American’s realize that the brunt of the fighting, and the decisive victories, mostly occurred on the eastern front.

  10. US Marshall Plan was a very good thing. One of the high points of American foreign involvement. Japan recover was also largely due to American good policies.

    I only wish such good foresight could be applied today.

  11. Flogger is right Fred. The US plays a large role not only in defense of the WORLD, but also financially in the world. I’m not talking about stock market crap, I’m talking cold hard cash going to other nations (China does but thats usually buying other nations and they still refuse to play a peacekeeper role outside their own country). The venom that comes from other nations towards the US is mostly sour grapes. They only wish they had the monetary and military might to make as big of an impact as the US. I remember watching a news conference where Canada said after the Haiti earthquake that Canada needed to contribute more to the aid and relief because they were tired of the U.S. getting all the credit. Problem is, no other country has the cojones to step up to the plate.

  12. I agree, the US gives out a lot of aid. Yet it’s potential goodwill is squandered by it’s military actions and other unsavory aspects of it’s foreign policy. I have many friends some of these areas where the US is deeply unpopular (especially Pakistan) and their arguments for their feelings are quite convincing. Many of these people don’t see it as world defense, just world intrusion by a hostile, disrespectful foreign power.

    You’d probably feel the same animosity if say China invaded the US and propped up their own corrupt temporary leadership at your general expense.

  13. Actually, lets pretend that the drug dealers in Mexico infiltrated the U.S. government, held all the states hostage and executed all the U.S. military (I know its a stretch but humor me). The normal everyday citizen has imminent threat to their life and their families lives if they even look at a cartel member sideways. If we didn’t have the power or will to overthrow them ourselves, and China offered, yes I would ask for help. I might have to swallow a large bit of pride, but yes, it would be welcome. Just because you or some hippies in CA think everyone in the world would be singing around the campfires while holding hands and burning all their shoes without the U.S. military around, doesn’t make it so. Yes, thousands that are now dead in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nazi Germany would still be alive today, but in what state. Does living in a state of fear for generations sound like happiness Fred? Does living with the threat of genocide for being born into a different clan (Iraq) sound like happieness to you Fred. Does laying down and submitting to servitude and/or imminent death sound like happiness to you Fred?

    If you are not willing to take a stand for yourselves to better your country and society for yourself and your children, don’t complain when someone else does it for you. You Canadians have never had to live with that fear and therefor are not qualified to judge a nation who has to constantly be on defense against all sorts of evil. And the U.S. laying down their arms would do nothing to quell that dissent. Allowing the evil to grow in those nations like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, etc. only strengthens those enemy’s of the U.S. and allows them to gain a greater foothold to raise armies and weapons to bear against the U.S. and their allies.

  14. I don’t believe for a minute that most American’s would take kindly to any foreign occupation particularly those hailing from more rural conservative constituents. The anti-government, pro-libertarian ideologues would take up arms.

  15. “Nazi Germany would still be alive today, but in what state.”

    Nazi Germany was doomed after the Luffawaffe defeat in the Battle of Britain and the defeats at Stalingrad and Moscow. It was after that, largely a question of time. American involvement on the western front’s main positive contribution was in securing more territory for Western Germany. Had the US not put boots on the ground, the Soviets would have had a much larger chunk of Germany – maybe all of it. Not only would this have doomed all of Germany to post-war economic malaise and occupation, but would have presented logistics problems in supplying aid to some southern allies post-war.

    Nazi Germany would have fallen without US military intervention.

  16. Actually I should revise what I said. Nazi Germany was “doomed” when the US got involved, that was the nail in the coffin for them. They may have been defeated anyway but the US (by the end of the war) was producing per month as many tools of war as Germany could produce in the entire conflict. Of all the axis’s mistakes, getting the US involved when they did was probably their biggest blunder.

    After that, they never stood a chance.

  17. Where’s the moderator? This is supposed to be a site about space, not who would / might have won the war and who has the biggest balls. How about taking that argument somewhere more appropriate?

  18. A lot of NRO activity is meant to provide information for treaty verification and compliance. It is not all about spy v spy stuff in a combative cold war situation.

    Without US intervention into the European conflict the outcome would have been uncertain. Germany could have been defeated, but then again it would have taken longer and Germany might have also had more capacity to industrialize a nuclear weapon project. It is impossible to play Monday morning quarterback on this of course. The Russians had far more manpower and they had their Ural industrial complex outside the reach of bombers. So after Kursk they were finished in Russia, that is unless they had a free hand to start delivering nuclear bombs into the USSR, maybe carried on V2 rockets.


  19. Very good. I had forgot about the nuclear weapons program. However, It was my understanding that early A-bombs were so large that only bomber jets could deliver them to target. That Nazi rocket program was still largely in it’s infancy and the nuclear program even more so. It is conceivable they could have developed nuclear weapons, but I am unsure if they could have had the capacity for long range deployment before the Soviets had swallowed up Germany proper.

    Hitler’s heavy handed generalship is another factor. He might have had other ideas in mind for the nuclear arsenal. One can only guess at “what ifs”…

  20. You guys really get carried away about silly details (who woulda won what etc).

    It’s not necessary for ANY country to spend money on weapons. It is essentially stealing from humanity. *As citizens of the Earth* it is our responsibility to prevent oligarchs from playing us off against each other with nationalism and hate.

    We are all crew on this organic spaceship, we must cooperate to survive. The archaic institution called a “nation” stands in the way of a united humanity that can make sane decisions. We must transition beyond governments by transcending tribal mentalities and cooperating with each other and our biosphere.

  21. In one sense I agree with you. However, it will not happen soon. It seems that every century, around the start of each century, humanity also goes into a collective psychosis, and to be honest I think we may be heading into the next one.


  22. Hey, how bout that Delta 4!

    oops!, look like I’m in the wrong forum, (BTW I hate Illinois Nazi’s)

  23. JLAZOR: Says the educated man. What % of the worlds population is literally brainwashed by propoganda and absolute control by a ruthless and dishonest government? These people dont stand a chance, we are all a product of our environments.

  24. “From July to October 1940, the English people suffered under the Battle of Britain: intense German bombing. The Royal Air Force valiantly defended its homeland from the German Luftwaffe, and the Nazis were unable to completely crush British morale.

    In March 1941, the U.S. began giving direct support to the British in the form of arms and ammunition through the Lend-Lease Act. After Pearl Harbor, in December, America would become directly involved in aiding the British in Europe. In January 1942, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to establish a Combined Chiefs of Staff and to the make defeating Germany their first priority. (Winning the war in Europe would come before winning the war in the Pacific.)

    After three more long years, the Allies did win the war in Europe. Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7, 1945.”

    Without the US, Englands ass was grass. Hitler would have then been able to focus all his resources on the commies, who knows what would have happened at that point…. the outcome would have been uncertain.

  25. Flogger:

    All your facts are correct. It’s the interpretation of England’s strategic position after the Battle of Britain that is in error. England’s “ass was not grass.” Without air superiority, Germany could not launch a land offensive against Britain. Moreover, Britain was also able to use their air power to salvage the situation at sea. The shipping to the Americas and her other allies remained tenable. Hitler realizing that there was no chance of occupying Britain without air superiority, turned to his eastern front, which was a more pressing matter at the time.

  26. Anyway, I’m all history pooped!

    When it’s all said and done. these missions are supremely disgusting and shameful for all of us.

  27. Ahemm….so, in this vehicle, we already have a heavy launch booster? What if there were two more boosters added? I bet THAT could launch some lunar landers! Solar powered laser lunar drilling rig setup anyone?

  28. For those asking about the capabilities of the D4H – it was one of the vehicles considered during the initial CEV launch vehicle consideration. However, neither the launch pad nor the EELV are man-rated. Studies have shown that this can be at a reasonable cost.

    Personally? I’m a VSE fan and would have preferred the D4H launch astronauts into orbit. Some of those who have already commented have hinted that it was pretty much already ready and employing it for that purpose could have saved time and money.

  29. I must say as much as I have enjoyed this discussion, I have to agree, lets get back on topic lol!

  30. “When it’s all said and done. these missions are supremely disgusting and shameful for all of us”

    You just couldnt resist. I 100% disagree and feel most here would say the same. Good luck canada incarnate…

  31. It is a HUGE difference in payload between D4H and Ares V (I even wonder why you bring this up). The difference in payload ratio is ~ 1:7 (in favor of Ares V). But what I don’t understand is the development of Ares I (now, Ares I was indeed in the same payload class as D4H). D4 has quite a good launch record, and as Jason stated, I doubt it was that difficult to human rate it (I guess, when it was designed, they already had such an option in mind…)

  32. And Capper, its “krasnoi”.


    … No it’s not. “I” in russian language represents a seperate syllable. “Krasnoy” in this use is only a two syllable word. Don’t always trust what comes up first on google, but respect to you for being curious and looking it up.

    And stop ragging on Canada just because of one guy! Don’t disrespect those who are dying alongside you in Kandahar.

  33. @Jason, if Griffin had focused NASA on getting boots on the ground rather than building a new rocket, we’d probably already be on the Moon again. He could have chosen to use the Delta IV Heavy and Atlas V Heavy to accomplish the initial mission while developing the Ares V in the background. Personally, I would have updated and restarted the Saturn V as a faster cheaper way … and yes, it could have been done and probably cheaper than Constellation.

    @Fred, you are seriously delusional if you think Germany would have been totally defeated in WWII without the help of the US. Hitler’s interference with his generals was probably the only thing keeping British and Russians from collapsing.

    Your slight at the American performance in North Africa omits that the green American troops fell victim to a German tactical deception that the British had previously fallen victim several times and got their tails handed to them just as badly as the Americans did. That changed quickly once Patton took over II Corps.

    The Battle of Britain was lost by the Germans after Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to focus on bombing the cities rather than military targets like airfields. Up until that point, the Luftwaffe was doing a good job on the RAF. There’s one of those Hitler interference things again.

    Without the Americans would the British have been able to drive the Germans completely out of N. Africa … unlikely … Invade Sicily … Probably not … Normandy … nope … at least certainly not by 1944. Without the pressure on the western front, could Hitler have put more resources into the eastern front? … Yep. Worse case is that the Germans and Russians would have fought until they reached a peace settlement … leaving the Nazis in control.

    Towards the end of the war, the German jet fighters, as primitive as the were … were wrecking havoc on Allied bombers. Had Hitler focused his efforts on a fighter instead of a jet bomber … Without the US and the 1944 invasion, Hitler would have had more time to bring this and possibly even the nuclear bomb online. He would not have hesitated to nuke the Soviets. That would have taken them out of the war.

    Any way you look at it, without the US assistance … the Nazis would not have been forced out.

  34. LOBOSOLO – someone asked a question – and I answered it. Sorry, but I fail to see the point in responding to my doing that by addressing some personal agenda.

  35. As carl sagan said, these satellites serve to cool the nerves of the hotheads and the parinoids, if we know what our potential enemies are doing then we don’t have to prepare for the worst perpetuating an even more reckless arms race. as was done preceding the last 2 world wars. These machines make sure that no one nation can build an overwhelming force under a veil of secrecy. although i would much rather have more money go to solar system exploration, but we can’t have what we want all the time. good day all!

  36. What about bombing of innocent people in Serbia and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? 😀

  37. @LOBOSOLO Neither denial nor delusional. I understand that this being a largely US forum, I’m going to get a lot of heat on this topic. I understand that the states is subject to some very powerful nationalist and American exceptionalism ideologies, and that this has a distorting effect on historical and international perceptions.

    Hitler’s interference: Yes, I did hint at this earlier. I agree completely.

    North African Campaign: I agree, the allies had some disastrous battles here. Patton was a great American general. I didn’t mention this simply because to mention everything, I’d have to write books here!

    Battle of Britain: Agreed. Yet this battle was won without American forces. However, it can be speculated that American’s played a key role in supplying Britain long before they entered the war.

    It’s difficult to imagine what would have happened to the Asian and African Nazi troops had events been different. However, I doubt holding these areas would have taken precedence over defending Germany. My guess would be that they would have been withdrawn to counter Soviet expansion post 1944.

    One of the biggest mistakes I see made regarding WWII is overemphasize the importance of the western fronts. I think we all do this because we had a direct role in them, whereas the eastern fronts were fought between two shadowy foreign dictatorships.

    By the time Operation Overload was underway, Hitler was suffering massive defeats on the eastern front. The Soviets were stomping the Nazis on a routine basis. Many of these battles were huge and the numbers killed or wounded often dwarfed western front battles. By summer 1944, the Soviets were fielding weapons on a 7:1 ratio in some exchanges and 10:1 ratio in manpower.

    The Luffwaffe fighter jet program actually was not particularly effective in WWII. As you mentioned, Hitler used them primarily as bombers rather than as fighter craft. Also, they were deployed too late and in far to few numbers to have any real impact.

    Certainly we all played a major role in WWII. That can not be denied. Nor am lessening the contribution of all the allies, or denigrating the US in general. Yet the basic facts remain (without getting into specific battles, and their numbers). The Soviets were on the offensive in overwhelming numbers and supplies before Canadians, Americans, British, or any other Allied forces opened up the western offensive.

    I think I’m going to stop this here. This is an Astronomy website and we are way off topic. This is not the place for this. My weakness is for history (my first masters was history) so I hope I can be forgiven for going off so long on this.

  38. “These machines make sure that no one nation can build an overwhelming force under a veil of secrecy.”

    Easy to say when you are the nation that can build an overwhelming force under a veil of secrecy!

  39. To my simple mind. We observe that everything is cyclic in the nature that we are part of.

    Maybe the great Penrose has detected the holographic type encoding imprinted on the event Horizon from previous Universes and previous black hole singularities from those Universes?

  40. @Jason, just commenting on the missed opportunity presented by the VSE.

    @Fred, I’m well aware of the Soviet viewpoint … I was both an armor officer and a Russian linguist … I know they were under a lot of strain from the Germans and, in turn, they were leaning on us to open a 2nd front to take some of the pressure off them. That was a big part of the impetus behind invading N. Africa, then Sicily, Italy, and finally Normandy so quickly.

    Back to the original point of the need of the spy satellite. After Pearl Harbor, the US military has worked very hard to ensure that it never gets blindsided like that again … It’s unfortunate, but there will probably always be a need for a spy satellite somewhere.

  41. LoboSolo – I couldn’t agree more. I loved both VSE and Constellation. The thing is (and you can try this test yourself) the folks that had issue with Constellation had their anger directed at the whole program as opposed to the real problem – Ares-1.

    Ask most folks that dislike Constellation what they didn’t like about it – it seems that when you get right down to it – it was Ares-1.

    My ideal? Man-rate a Delta IV Heavy, Atlas V500 and Falcon 9. Give Orion a universal mating adapter – from there you fly the manifest with what is avaialble. If something goes wrong? You can keep flying – just on another launch vehicle (while the one with the issue is being investigated). This removes the gaps that happen when accidents occur.

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