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Delta IV With Spy Satellite Set to Launch from Vandenberg AFB

United Launch Alliance rocket's blastoff planned for Wednesday afternoon

The National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-47 payload, encapsulated inside a 5-meter payload fairing, is mated to a Delta IV rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex-6 to prep for departure. Click to view larger
The National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-47 payload, encapsulated inside a 5-meter payload fairing, is mated to a Delta IV rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex-6 to prep for departure. (United Launch Alliance photo)

A Delta IV Medium rocket with a top-secret spacecraft sitting inside the nosecone remains in line to become the first launch of 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base when it departs on Wednesday.

Liftoff of the United Launch Alliance rocket, standing 217 feet tall, from Space Launch Complex-6 on South Base is planned for 1 p.m., and the team had completed most of their chores ahead of the departure.

“As far as preparations for launch, everything is in place,” Lt. Col. Kenneth Decker, 4th Space Launch Squadron commander, said Monday. “What we’re doing now mainly are last minute checks on the vehicle and the infrastructure to ensure readiness.”

Departure is dependent upon favorable weather, with forecasters calling for a 60-percent chance conditions will prevent liftoff, ULA officials said.

The key concern centers on high winds that would prevent the team from retracting the mobile service tower from its place sheltering the rocket. That is a critical step to allow fueling to occur. 

“We’re projecting some fairly high winds on Wednesday with the storm moving out,” Decker said. “We’re watching that closely. If the winds are too high we may not move the tower.”

A delay until Thursday could bring improved weather for a launch attempt, according to forecasts.

The rocket will carry a clandestine cargo for the National Reconnaissance Office, which has staff members from the CIA and Defense Department. This mission is dubbed NROL-47.

Due to the payload, the length of the launch window remains top secret, but is not expected to extend beyond 5 p.m., according to a mariners’ notice issued to keep boaters off the water near the base.

The Delta IV launch comes months after an Atlas V launch from Vandenberg for another NRO mission. 

That meant the team spent time working parallel missions until Atlas left in September.

“We were very busy with both of those, and then we finally got to shift our focus directly to L-47,”  said Capt. Alessa Makuch, lead engineer with the 4th SLS.

This launch also will mark the first flight of common avionics for a Delta IV rocket amid a program to standardize some hardware on ULA’s Atlas and Delta boosters. Those upgrades required changes to software and hardware in anticipation of the flight. 

“Considering all those changes that had to be made, it was a pretty good launch flow and I think we’re all pretty excited to be finally here at the end,” Makuch added. 

SLC-6, the former space shuttle launch pad and one of the most southern facilities, sits in a valley and is not visible from locales around the Lompoc Valley.

For the launch, the Air Force will host spectators at the Hawk’s Nest on Highway 1, between the main gate and Vandenberg Village. The site will open at 12:15 p.m. 

Other sites around the Lompoc Valley offer views of Vandenberg launches including Harris Grade Road and in Vandenberg Village.

Due to the trajectory for the mission, it appears Jalama Beach County Park will not be evacuated for this launch, offering another potential viewing site.

The Delta IV mission once was planned for December before a glitch involving batteries caused a delay.

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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