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‘Unmatched power’: Alabama-built ULA rocket successfully launches another national security mission

Alabama on Monday once again powered a vital mission to space when a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket successfully launched the NROL-82 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The rocket — built at ULA’s world-class facility in Decatur — lifted off from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Due to the classified nature of the mission, no specific information is able to be released regarding the payload. The NRO is a joint Department of Defense-Intelligence Community organization and is tasked with operating the nation’s intelligence satellites used for national security.

ULA has now launched 143 times with 100% mission success.

“The unmatched power of the Delta IV Heavy again demonstrated its role as the nation’s proven heavy lift vehicle precisely delivering this critical NRO asset to its intended orbit,” stated Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “We are honored to support National Security space and thank our mission partners for their continued trust and teamwork.”

The Delta IV Heavy is widely recognized for delivering high-priority missions for the U.S. Space Force, NRO and NASA. The vehicle also launched NASA’s Orion capsule on its first orbital test flight and sent the Parker Solar Probe on its journey to unlock the mysteries of the sun.

This was the 42nd launch of the Delta IV rocket, the 13th in the Heavy configuration and ULA’s 31st launch with the NRO. ULA currently builds Delta IV and Atlas V rockets in Decatur. The next-generation Vulcan Centaur, also built in Decatur, could see its first mission come to fruition as early as the fourth quarter of 2021. It is anticipated that the Delta IV will be retired in 2023, after which the Vulcan Centaur would take over full-time for ULA’s heavy-lift launches.

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The Delta IV Heavy utilized Monday was comprised of three common core boosters each powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine, producing a combined total of more than 2.1 million pounds of thrust. The second stage was powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.

ULA’s next scheduled launch is the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force, scheduled for May 17 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn