ULA launches spy satellite from California

By Brooks Hays

Jan. 12 (UPI) -- The third time was the charm for United Launch Alliance and its twice-delayed NROL-47 mission.

After ULA was forced to delay proceedings on Wednesday and Thursday, the space company successfully launched its Delta IV rocket at 5:11 p.m. ET, 2:11 p.m. local time, on Friday.


A ground system helium problem caused blastoff to be delayed by more than hour.

The blastoff and initial phases of the rocket's flight were a success.

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"Payload fairing jettison," ULA tweeted, before concluding its coverage of the mission.

Because the mission involved the deployment of a spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, ULA ended its coverage of the flight early.

Friday's launch was originally supposed to happen on Wednesday, but was pushed to Thursday due to high winds. Thursday's attempt was scrubbed "due to an issue with a ground system valve."

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Friday's takeoff took place at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. The mission was ULA's 27th for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

According to NASA Spaceflight, NROL-47 is most likely some type of radar imaging satellite.

Friday's mission offered ULA a chance to showcase its reliability in the wake of the alleged failure of SpaceX's Zuma mission.


Last weekend, a top secret government spacecraft launched by SpaceX reportedly failed to achieve a stable orbit. The government hasn't confirmed whether the top-secret satellite did indeed fall out of orbit and reenter Earth's atmosphere.

SpaceX claimed its rocket performed as expected, implying the blame for the Zuma mission lay elsewhere. The Pentagon has deflected questions to SpaceX, while one SpaceX customer said the blame lies with the maker of the secret spacecraft, Northrop Grumman.

It's possible ULA's launch delays were the result of a more cautious approach -- adopted in the wake of the Zuma mission failure.

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