A Delta IV rocket soared away from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday afternoon, en route to delivering its clandestine cargo into space. A single RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine powered the second stage. A minute and a half after that, now more than 60 miles up and traveling at more than 5,000 mph, the protective nose cone fairing was jettisoned, exposing the satellite to the space environment. It marked the 27th NRO launch by United Launch Alliance, which is a Colorado-based aerospace partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
This was the 36th flight of a ULA Delta 4 rocket and the first since last March. Less than three hours prior to the scheduled launch, ULA tweeted that there were no issues with the rocket or having to do with the launch at that time.
Due to the payload's classified nature, officials have remained mum about its goal, cost and status. NRO missions tend to be hush-hush, and NROL-47 is no exception; no details have been released about the satellite's planned activities.
Ted Molczan, a respected independent satellite analyst, said the Delta's payload may be the latest Future Imagery Architecture radar satellite, capable of "seeing" the ground at night and through cloud cover. "My honest thanks to the entire ULA team and our mission partners at the NRO and U.S. Air Force who made this, our 27 NRO launch, possible".
This is ULA's first launch in 2018 and the 124 successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.
The launch of the new classified reconnaissance satellite has been much anticipated - as it has been delayed several times.