Space

August 31, 2013

Defense satellite launched from Vandenberg may be final KH-11

delta-launch3
 

On Aug. 28 the 4th Space Launch Squadron and United Launch Alliance successfully lofted a classified satellite payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office atop a Delta IV-Heavy, the largest rocket currently available in the U.S. inventory.

With an earsplitting roar that shook surrounding communities, the massive booster departed Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 11:03 a.m., PST, and soared into clear blue skies off the California coast.

Officially designated Delta 364 but nicknamed “Victoria” by mission team members, this is only the second Delta IV-Heavy to liftoff from the West Coast. Several others have been launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and one from Vandenberg in January 2011.

Standing over 230 feet tall and weighing more than 14 tons, the Delta IV-Heavy is a triple-body rocket assembled from three common booster cores (CBCs) mounted together side by side. Three liquid-hydrogen fueled RS-68 engines provide first-stage thrust at launch. The second stage uses a single RL10-B-2 engine to place the payload spacecraft in low Earth orbit. For Wednesday’s launch the starboard CBC was ignited two seconds earlier than usual so as to burn off residual gaseous hydrogen near the launch pad. This was deemed necessary because on previous flights, ignition of vented hydrogen has scorched foam insulation covering the CBCs. This phenomenon, coupled with the rocket’s slow initial departure speed, resulted in disconcerting images of the booster wreathed in flames as it ascended into the sky. The new procedure, however, proved quite effective in mitigating this problem.

delta-launch1

Intensive preparations for the mission began April 29 when the rocket was rolled out to the launch pad. Two months later, Air Force and ULA crews put the vehicle through a dress rehearsal that followed a realistic launch-day script requiring the rocket to be fully fueled and powered so that team members could practice countdown procedures. It wasn’t until late July that the secret payload – identified only as NROL-65 – was encapsulated within its protective fairing and mated to the launch vehicle for checkout and integration.

As usual with NRO launches, detailed information on the payload was not publicly disclosed but this hasn’t stopped analysts from speculating on the basis of available clues. The size of the rocket and its payload shroud provided some general indication of the spacecraft’s size, and the launch trajectory indicated an orbital inclination of around 97 degrees. These factors and the launch time suggested to some that this was the final launch of a KH-11 optical surveillance satellite. Space analysts believe a total of 14 satellites of the KH-11 family, including improved models, were launched between 1976 and 1990.

It has been long suspected that the NRO ordered two more of these venerable spacecraft after the Future Imagery Architecture program’s planned KH-11 successor was canceled in 2005 when delays and cost overruns led Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to cancel that portion of the FIA program. The NRO was then forced to use one remaining KH-11 and build another from spare parts to meet the needs of the intelligence community. The first of those two satellites, NROL-49, was reportedly launched from Vandenberg on a Delta IV-Heavy in 2011.

delta-launch2

Additional clues to the Aug. 28 mystery payload may be found in mission patches worn by military and civilian launch team members. The launch vehicle patch features a Delta IV-Heavy flying into the sunset, and includes the name “Victoria.” The payload patch shows an anthropomorphized American eagle holding the world in its right hand and a fanged serpent in its left. The snake’s tail forms the lower-case Greek letter omega, symbolically indicating the payload’s final flight. The eagle sports a tattoo on its left arm with the name “Buttercup,” and is wearing a desert camouflage tunic emblazoned with the U.S. flag and a tag reading “DYS.” The emblem also bears the Gaelic inscription, “Sheachadadh Do Rudai” (Delivering Your Stuff).




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines July 31, 2015

News: Carter: Military leaders could arm more troops at home – Following the recent fatal shooting of four Marines and a sailor in Tennessee, Defense Secretary Ash Carter is ordering the military services to consider new policies that would enhance security for troops at home, including potentially arming more personnel.   Business: DOD weighs supplier base,...
 
 

News Briefs July 31, 2015

U.S. delivering eight newer F-16 warplanes to Egypt The United States Embassy in Cairo says the U.S. is delivering eight newer F-16 warplanes to Egypt as part of an ongoing military support package. It says in a July 30 statement that the aircraft, of the current Block 52 production variant, will be flown in from...
 
 
Lockheed Martin photograph

Lockheed Martin successfully tests design changes for Orion spacecraft’s fairing separation system

Lockheed Martin photograph A protective panel for Orion’s service module is jettisoned during testing at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, California facility. This test series evaluated design changes to the spacecraft’s fair...
 

 

Australian company to provide parts for initial production of Triton UAS

Northrop Grumman has awarded the first Australian supplier contract for the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system initial production lot to Ferra Engineering. Brisbane-based Ferra Engineering will manufacture mechanical sub-assemblies for the first four Triton air vehicles including structural components. “At Northrop Grumman it’s very important to not only develop...
 
 
Boeing photograph

CH-46 ‘Phrog’ makes its last hop

Boeing photograph The CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter commonly known as the “Phrog,” is set to retire and to be flown one last time by Reserve Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 774 on Aug. 1. The CH-46 Sea Knight is a med...
 
 

Insitu awarded LRIP Lot IV RQ-21A Blackjack Systems contract

Under the terms of its latest contract, Insitu will build six RQ-21A Blackjack systems for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The $78-million Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Lot IV Low Rate Initial Production contract is the latest event in the program’s progression toward the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation phase.   “This award will...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>