A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office on Thursday night from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- United Launch Alliance on Thursday launched a spy satellite for the U.S. Department of Defense from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The company's powerful Delta IV Heavy rocket lifted off at 8:09 p.m.. its flight lighting up a partially cloudy south Florida sky.
The launch had been delayed several times this year. On Aug. 29, controllers halted a liftoff as the countdown reached 3 seconds.
The company blamed a faulty helium pressure regulator for that abort. The mission was further delayed due to a problem with a retractable support arm at the launch site, according to ULA.
The Delta Heavy rocket is a triple-core launcher that produces a collective 2.2 million pounds of thrust. That compares to SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, the most powerful of today's rockets, with 3.4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.
The flight, called NROL-44, was the 12th launch of a Delta IV Heavy, which first was used in 2004, the company said.
The National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that oversees the launch, is part of the Defense Department. According to its mission statement, it is responsible for developing, launching and operating America's reconnaissance satellites, along with data-processing facilities.
That data is used by the National Security Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to produce photos, maps, reports and other tools for the president, Congress, national policymakers, warfighters and others.
The Delta IV Heavy, the fourth version of the workhorse Delta rocket, was developed to launch for the reconnaissance office, U.S. Air Force Space Command and NASA. It also carried NASA's Orion capsule in a 2014 test flight and sent the Parker Solar Probe into the sun's outer atmosphere.
The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA