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Delta IV Rocket Launch Planned Early Wednesday From Vandenberg Air Force Base

Top-secret payload launching from former space shuttle facility will be sixth Delta IV launch from Lompoc Valley

A mobile service tower is retracted from its place sheltering a Delta IV rocket at Space Launch Complex-6 on south Vandenberg Air Force Base. A similar rocket is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday morning.
A mobile service tower is retracted from its place sheltering a Delta IV rocket at Space Launch Complex-6 on south Vandenberg Air Force Base. A similar rocket is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday morning.  (Contributed photo)

Continuing an already busy launch year, a Delta IV rocket is set to place a top-secret spacecraft into orbit early Wednesday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The United Launch Alliance booster is scheduled to blast off from Space Launch Complex-6 on South Base during a launch window opening at 3:39 a.m.

Due to the National Reconnaissance Office payload on board the rocket, officials won’t release the length of the launch window for the mission dubbed NROL-45.

“At this point we’re hoping for good weather and the rocket’s looking clean,”  Lt. Col. Eric Zarybnisky, 4th SLS commander. 

However, weather isn’t expected to pose any problems for the team hoping to get the rocket off the ground. 

“I was down at the pad this morning giving the rocket one last look and everything is looking really good,” Zarybnisky told Noozhawk on Monday. 

Standing some 217 feet tall, the Delta IV Medium sports two solid-rocket motors attached to the lower portion. 

Crews are finishing final chores in preparation for the blastoff, and managers will participate in a launch readiness review Monday evening to ensure the rocket and spacecraft are ready.

“We are excited and ready to take on our first Delta launch of 2016,” said Col. J. Christopher Moss, 30th Space Wing commander and launch decision authority for this mission.

“We are proud to showcase this national capability and everyone involved has been working tirelessly to ensure this launch is a safe and successful one.”

Delta IV rockets blast off from the former space shuttle facility, which is tucked in a valley and is not visible from typical viewing sites around the Lompoc Valley.

However, popular spots to watch Delta IV rocket launches includes the peak of Harris Grade Road and near the intersection of Moonglow and Stardust roads in Vandenberg Village.

Officials remain mum about the classified cargo’s specific mission or cost beyond confirming it’s a national security payload for the spy-satellite agency.

“Every launch is important. As General Hyten has said numerous times, there really is no day without space,” Zarybnisky said, referring to Air Force Space Command’s leader, Gen. John E. Hyten. 

“And launch really is that gateway to that high ground,” Zarybnisky said. “We stress that to our folks every day that hey, this isn’t just another launch. Each one of them is drastically important.

“Specifically, for this launch we’ll deliver a vital capability for our warfighters and our nation but obviously I can’t get into the specifics of the payloads.”

Work leading up to Wednesday’s liftoff began many months ago. Launch vehicle hardware arrived at Vandenberg in late 2014 and crews stacked the rocket at the launch pad in July 2015, Zarybnisky said.

Since then, crews have conducted assorted tests including holding a successful wet dress rehearsal in early November prior to mating the payload to the rocket last month. 

“We’ve had numerous exercises with the team to make sure everybody’s ready for day of launch to get everybody cohesive, make sure the communication is flowing well because on day of it can be stressful and that communication and team is very key to making it happen.” 

This will be the sixth Delta IV rocket to fly from Vandenberg, and the 31st overall. 

“Every rocket is unique. There’s a lot of intricacies built in, each of the missions has its own unique flavor and there’s a lot of folks who come together to make the mission happen,”  Zarybnisky said, noting “it really is rocket science at the end of the day.”

This week's mission follows a Falcon 9 rocket launch of a NASA satellite on Jan. 17 and missile-defense interceptor for a non-intercept test Jan. 28 from Vandenberg.

Vandenberg has a busy but compressed year due to work involving Western Range equipment used to monitor just-launched rockets and missiles from the base. Base officials expect to have six-month span without blastoffs due to the work. 

“I will say the Western Range scheduling shop has done some magic as we’ve stacked up all these launches here,” he said. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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