Secret U.S. spy satellite launches into orbit on huge Delta 4 Heavy rocket.

A huge unmanned rocket carrying a secret new spy satellite…

A huge unmanned rocket carrying a secret new spy satellite for the United States roared into space Sunday (Nov. 21) to deliver what one reconnaissance official has touted as “the largest satellite in the world” into orbit.

The giant booster – a Delta 4 Heavy rocket – blasted off at 5:58 p.m. EST (2258 GMT) from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida carrying a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. [Photo of the spy satellite’s dazzling night launch]
“This mission helps to ensure that vital NRO resources will continue to bolster our national defense,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, commander 45th Space Wing, after the successful launch.

The satellite, called NROL-32, launched after a series of delays from technical glitches. The most recent glitch, a pair of faulty temperature sensors, thwarted a Nov. 19 launch attempt.

The exact purpose of the new spy satellite NROL-32 is secret, but one NRO official has hinted at the huge size of the reconnaissance spacecraft.

In a Sept. 13 address at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference, NRO director Bruce Carlson, a retired Air Force general, told an audience that this Delta 4 Heavy rocket would launch “with the largest satellite in the world on it.”

For comparison, in July 2009 a satellite called TerreStar-1 – touted as the world’s largest commercial satellite ever built – launched into space atop an Ariane 5 rocket. TerreStar-1 is 15,233 pounds (6,910 kg) satellite equipped with a huge 60-foot (18-meter) antenna.

The Delta 4 Heavy rocket is the United States’ biggest unmanned rocket currently in service and has 2 millions pounds of thrust, making it the most powerful liquid fueled booster available today. A Delta 4 Heavy rocket stands 235 feet (72 meters) tall and is actually made up of three boosters, each called a Common Booster Core, arranged in a line to give it a three-column appearance.

The rocket is built and launched by the United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. It made its first flight in 2004 and is capable of launching payloads of up to 24 tons into low-Earth orbit and 11 tons toward the geosynchronous orbits used by communications satellites.

Source: Tariq Malik for SPACE.com.

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