Delta IV Heavy retires after decades of service with secret mission – Times of India


NEW DELHI: The US space force and a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin on Tuesday sent a secret reconnaissance payload into orbit using a Delta IV Heavy rocket. This launch marks the final flight for this renowned launch vehicle, which has served for decades, tallying nearly 400 missions since its inception in 1960.
The rocket, managed by United Launch Alliance (ULA), lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at approximately 1pm EDT (1700 GMT).This launch comes after a 12-day delay due to a technical issue encountered during a previous attempt. Standing at approximately 23 stories tall, the Delta IV Heavy ascended into the sky amidst partly cloudy conditions, as seen in a live webcast by ULA.
The mission aimed to deploy a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), a classified operation known as NROL-70. Hours later, the Space Force confirmed the successful placement of the payload into orbit. Originating from a modified ballistic missile, these rockets have played crucial roles in space missions since the 1960s, with a total of 389 launches.
Some of the achievements of the Delta rockets include launching the world’s first weather and GPS satellites, as well as numerous NASA missions, such as sending spacecraft to Mars. Among these missions were the launches of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity in 2003 and the Parker Solar Probe in 2018.
Tony Bruno, the president and CEO of ULA, emphasised the pivotal role of the Delta rocket saying, “The Delta rocket played a pivotal role in the evolution of space flight since the 1960s.”
Moving forward, ULA plans to retire the Delta and Atlas rockets in favor of its newly developed Vulcan rocket. Despite a recent setback where the payload malfunctioned before reaching the moon, the Vulcan rocket showcased a successful inaugural flight earlier this year.
The Atlas V, another ULA rocket, still had 17 missions scheduled before its planned retirement. The Delta IV Heavy, weighing 1.6 million pounds when fully fueled, consists of a triple-booster lower stage and a single-engine upper stage. During Tuesday’s flight, key stages separated as planned, culminating in the jettisoning of cargo panels protecting the NROL-70 payload.
The exact nature and objectives of the NROL-70 mission remain classified. In a statement preceding the launch, the US government mentioned the mission’s aim to enhance the NRO’s capabilities. “Strengthen the NRO’s ability to provide a wide range of timely intelligence information to national decision makers, warfighters and intelligence analysts,” the statement said.
(With inputs from agencies)


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