Stupendous ‘Spysat Sunrise’ at the Cape

Image caption: ‘Spysat Sunrise’ and Delta 4 Heavy booster at Cape Canaveral, Florida prior to successful June 29, 2012 blastoff from Pad 37 at 9:15 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer

Some lucky Florida Space Coast spectators were unexpectedly treated to a glorious “Spysat Sunrise” when the June 29 liftoff of the powerful Delta 4 Heavy booster lofting a super secret spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) was postponed several hours from its originally scheduled predawn launch time.

The sight of the orange and white triple barreled Delta booster and the multi hued sunrise show lasting several minutes was gorgeous beyond compare.

Image caption: ‘Spysat Sunrise’ and Delta 4 Heavy booster at Cape Canaveral, Florida prior to successful June 29, 2012 blastoff from Pad 37 at 9:15 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer

As a result of the sudden, last minute launch time postponement amidst blistering Florida heat in the middle of mosquito infested waters, some folks got a super “consolation prize” – a magnificent sunrise behind the Delta 4 Heavy rocket launch pad at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

That is for those who were fortunate enough to be unwittingly watching from exactly the right spot at the right time. The photos were shot from about 3 miles away on the NASA Causeway.

Image caption: An upgraded Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

The goal of the mission was to deliver the NROL-15 satellite to orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to conduct unspecified intelligence gathering operations for US military forces located around the globe.

Read more about the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Spy satellite launch in my mission related articles starting here as well as the prior week’s June 20 NROL-38 NRO spysat launch – here and here.

Ken Kremer

Super Secret Spy Satellite Soars Spectacularly to Space on Delta 4 Heavy Booster

Image caption: An upgraded Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret spy satellite roar off pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

A super secret spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) soared spectacularly to space today (June 29) aboard a Delta 4 Heavy Booster – America’s most powerful rocket following the retirement of NASA’s venerable Space Shuttle Orbiters.

Liftoff of the mammoth Delta 4 Heavy rocket – composed of a trio of liquid fueled common core boosters – finally came at 9:15 a.m. EDT about 3 hours late after a variety of technical issues halted the countdown three times at less than 4 minutes from liftoff from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Heavy rains and flooding from Tropical Storm Debby had forced a 1 day launch delay from June 28.

The 232 foot tall United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta lifted off into a magnificent clear blue sky atop the rumbling thunder of three upgraded boosters strapped together side by side and it gradually arced over to the East on the way to orbit.

Both side attached boosters jettisoned as planned. After the second stage engine ignited and the payload fairing separated, the flight went into a preplanned communications black out for the remainder of the flight to orbit and the entire intelligence mission ahead for the hush, hush NROL-15 satellite.

“Today’s successful launch of the NROL-15 mission is the third of four launches for the NRO this year and the second EELV launch for the NRO in just nine days,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. “We congratulate the combined NRO , U.S. Air Force and ULA team along with our mission partners for their continued focus on mission success as we deliver the critical capabilities to support the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”

Just last week on June 20, a ULA Atlas 5 booster lofted the secret NROL-38 satellite for the NRO.

This was only the 6th launch of the Delta 4 Heavy booster and the inaugural flight featuring the upgraded RS-68A Liquid Hydrogen/Liquid Oxygen first stage engines. Each improved engine delivers some 797,000 pounds of thrust vs 758,000 pounds in the prior version – an increase of 39,000 pounds. A single RL 10 engine powered the second stage.

“The upgraded Delta IV Heavy vehicle was developed with an extremely thorough and comprehensive system engineering process by the ULA and Pratt-Whitney Rocketdyne teams, along with substantial involvement by our U.S. government customers,” said Sponnick. “Congratulations to the entire team on today’s successful inaugural flight of the upgraded Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle and the RS-68A engine.”

Ken Kremer

Hush, Hush US Spy Satellite Blasts Off atop Milestone Atlas Rocket

Image Caption: Spy Satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office blasts off atop Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 8:28 a.m. EDT. Credit: Jeff Seibert/wired4space.com

A top secret US national security Spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) roared mightily to space this morning (June 20) through picturesque layers of broken clouds an Atlas V rocket at 8:28 a.m. EDT (1228 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Basically nothing is publicly known about the specifications or mission of the vital payload, dubbed NROL-38, launched in support of America’s national defense.

The classified mission entered a total news blackout and cutoff of the live webcast some five minutes after launch when the rocket’s first stage and upper stage engine separated successfully and before the secret satellite was deployed and reached orbit.

The flight marked a key milestone as the 50th successful launch of the combined Atlas V and Delta IV booster families collectively known as the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) built by United Launch Alliance (ULA). The maiden launch took place in 2002.

Image Caption: NROL-38 Spy Satellite soars to space on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 8:28 a.m. EDT on Jun 20, 2012. Credit: Jeff Seibert/wired4space.com

ULA was formed in 2006 as a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin who were originally in competition at the start of the EELV program.

“This morning’s flawless launch is the product of many months of hard work and collaboration of government and industry teams. We hit it out of the park again as we continue to deliver superior vigilance from above for the Nation,” remarked Col James D. Fisher, Director of Office of Space Launch.

Threatening clouds and gusting winds remained within acceptable levels and did not delay the launch.

The 19 story Atlas booster first stage was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10A-4 engine.


Image Caption: NROL-38 Spy Satellite liftoff on June 20, 2012 atop Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

“Congratulations to the NRO and to all the mission partners involved in this critical national security launch,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. “This launch marks an important milestone as we celebrate the 50th successful Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) mission, with 31 Atlas V and 19 Delta IV missions flown since August 2002.”

The NROL-38 spy satellite is the first of three critical NRO missions slated for launch by ULA over the next two months. The NRO is based in Chantilly, Va. and the U.S. Government agency responsible for designing, building, launching, and maintaining America’s intelligence satellites.

Indeed the next NRO satellite is currently scheduled for blastoff in the early morning hours of June 28 atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster rocket, now the most powerful rocket in the US arsenal following the forced retirement of NASA’s trio of Space Shuttle orbiters and which will surely put on a spectacular sky show !

The likewise classified NROL-15 mission will lift off next Thursday from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral.



Image Caption: NROL-38 Spy Satellite liftoff on June 20, 2012 atop Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

The EELV Program was developed by the United States Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads, achieve significant cost savings and reliably meet launch schedule targets as older booster such as the Titan were phased out.

“Twelve of the 50 EELV launches have been NRO missions and these have been vital to our overall mission of delivering on commitments critical to our national security,” said Bruce Carlson, director, National Reconnaissance Office. “I thank and congratulate ULA and the EELV program for the tremendous performance and achievement of this very impressive and noteworthy milestone.”


Image Caption: NROL-38 Spy Satellite atop Atlas V rocket pierces cloud layers after liftoff on June 20, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

ULA will be getting some competition. SpaceX Corporation – which recently dispatched the first private spacecraft (Dragon) to dock at the ISS – will compete in the bidding to launch future US national security payloads.

Ken Kremer