A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket launched the NROL-82 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Liftoff occurred from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
This is the 143rd mission for United Launch Alliance and the company’s 90th mission in support of U.S. national security and the 31st for the NRO. This is the 386th Delta launch since 1960, the 13th Delta IV Heavy and the 9th Heavy for the NRO. NROL-82 is also the NRO’s first launch from Vandenberg since January of 2019.
United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy is a heavy-lift launch vehicle, the largest type of the Delta IV family and one of the world’s most powerful rockets.
The Delta IV Heavy configuration is comprised of a common booster core (CBC), a cryogenic upper stage and a 5-meter-diameter payload fairing (PLF). The Delta IV Heavy employs two additional CBCs as liquid rocket boosters to augment the first-stage CBC. The Delta IV Heavy can lift 28,370 kg (62,540 lbs) to LEO and 14,210 kg (31,330 lbs) to GEO. This is an all liquid-fueled rocket, consisting of an upper stage, one main booster and two strap-on boosters.
The first launch to occur from Space Launch Complex 6 occurred with an Athena I rocket in August of 1995. In 2000, Boeing took over SLC-6 and, in 2006, ULA was formed, re-fitting the site to serve as the west coast home for the Delta IV launch vehicle family with modifications to the Mobile Assembly Shelter, Mobile Service Tower, Launch Tower, and other support structures.
The NRO’s next launch is NROL-111 that is scheduled for later this quarter from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
Engines supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne provided the lifting power for the successful launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a classified U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) NROL-82 payload.
The Delta IV Heavy features three core stages in a side-by-side configuration, each powered by a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A engine generating 705,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff. The RS-68A, developed specifically for the Delta IV, is the world’s most powerful hydrogen-fueled engine.
The vehicle’s second stage is powered by a single RL10B-2, hydrogen-fueled engine generating 24,750 pounds of thrust. Variants of the RL10 have been flying since the 1960s on various rockets, with well over 500 having flown to date.
The Delta IV Heavy’s propulsion systems also feature pressurant tanks built by Aerojet Rocketdyne’s ARDÉ subsidiary.
“When it comes to launching high-value national security payloads, America puts its trust in our propulsion systems,” said Eileen P. Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. “Our reliable, flight-proven RS-68 and RL10 engines have supported ULA’s Delta IV Heavy missions since the rocket’s first flight in 2004 and have continued with 100% mission success for nearly two decades.”
“The payload launched today is one of the most complex payloads our nation launches and it provides vital space capability,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise. “That’s why we have to get it right the first time. The launch team performed flawlessly and I am so proud of the work they do to ensure 100 percent mission success.”
“Congratulations to our NRO, ULA, 30th Space Wing and SMC team for a successful NROL-82 launch,” said Col. Erin Gulden, chief of SMC’s Launch Enterprise Atlas and Delta Division. “It is a testament to the skill and dedication of our team to have successfully placed 85 of 85 national security payloads in orbit.”
ULA’s next launch is the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force, scheduled for May 17, 2021, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.
Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) supported the successful launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV heavy rocket. The rocket launched a national security payload, designated NROL-82, for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in support of a national defense mission.
Integrated Northrop Grumman launch vehicle products support the successful launch of a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a critical NRO payload on April 26, 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance
Northrop Grumman’s contributions to the ULA Delta IV heavy rocket include 11 key large composite structures including three thermal shields that house and protect the engines during flight; three centerbody structures that connect the liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid hydrogen (LH2) tanks; the payload fairing that provides protection to the payload; the composite interstage on the center common booster core; the nose cones on the two strap-on boosters and one set of X-panel structures that connect the upper stage LOX tank with the upper stage hydrogen tank. The large-scale composite structures measure four to five meters in diameter and range from one to 15 meters in length. Northrop Grumman produced them all using advanced hand layup, machining and inspection techniques at the company’s manufacturing facility in Iuka, Mississippi.
Other Northrop Grumman products integrated on the ULA Delta IV heavy launch vehicle include four booster separation rocket motors for the launch vehicle manufactured at Northrop Grumman’s Rocket City, West Virginia facility. The motors ignite when the two side-mounted common core stage burns are complete to assist booster separation from the center core.
Northrop Grumman also designed and produced the nozzles for the three Aerojet-Rocketdyne RS-68 engines, as well as the nozzles’ innovative thermal protection material, which is capable of shielding them from the extreme heat of launch when external temperatures can exceed 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Northrop Grumman manufactured the nozzle at its Promontory, Utah facility.
Additionally, the company manufactured the propellant tank for the Delta IV upper stage roll control system at its Commerce, California facility.