Delta IV Heavy launch: World's second most powerful rocket lofts spy satellite

A big United Launch Alliance rocket lit up Florida's skies on a national security mission.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
Delta IV Heavy rocket on launch pad

The Delta IV Heavy rocket, serving as the backdrop for a 3D projection at Cape Canaveral. 


After months of delays, one of the biggest rockets in business today finally blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Thursday on a national security mission for the US National Reconnaissance Office.

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carried a classified spy satellite to orbit for a mission dubbed NROL-44.

The launch was originally scheduled for Aug. 26 but got scrubbed multiple times, most recently on Sept. 29, due to technical problems with equipment on the launch pad, as well as weather. The rocket lifted off into the dark evening sky just after 5:09 p.m. PT (8:09 p.m. ET).

Delta IV Heavy has performed other NRO missions and also sent the Parker Solar Probe on its way to survey our sun. 

The Delta IV Heavy's lifting capability is second only to that of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. It resembles the Falcon Heavy, with its three core boosters making up its main body.

Unlike SpaceX, ULA doesn't attempt to land its Delta boosters. Instead they were expended and fell into the Atlantic Ocean. 

Another Delta IV launch carrying yet another classified spy satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office is expected in early 2021, this time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Watch this: Watch SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket nail an historic landing