The United Launch Alliance successfully launched one of its Delta 4 rocket into space on Jan. 12 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The launch is carrying a classified spy satellite called NROL-47.
The NROL-47 Spy Satellite
The classified spy satellite is owned by the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO, which is one of the most secretive government departments in the United States. The NRO runs a fleet of satellites that are being used for surveillance and intelligence gathering.
The Delta 4 rocket, along with the spy satellite, lifted off from the Space Launch Complex 6 at 2:11 p.m. PST or 5:11 p.m. EST.
The recent launch is considered to be the 36th launch and the first of this year for ULA. It is also the 27th launch for the NRO. It was initially scheduled to launch on Jan. 10 and later Jan. 11, but was delayed twice due to weather conditions and technical issues.
As the Delta 4 rocket was nearing orbit, the United Launch Alliance ended its coverage and the rest of the flight was carried out under the radar.
"The successful launch of a payload in support of our national security and that of allied forces demands the best propulsion systems available," stated Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. "Aerojet Rocketdyne employees across the country work hard to ensure 100 percent mission success, and our role in yet another launch for the National Reconnaissance Office demonstrates the trust and confidence in our propulsion."
On A Secret Mission
Because of the secretive nature of the mission, not much is known about the NROL-47 payload. However, it is speculated that the spy satellite could be used as an image or radar reconnaissance that would be able to spot objects located anywhere around the globe.
The NRO, on the other hand, said that the launch was one of two launches planned by the agency for 2018. But no other information was provided.
According to Ted Molczan, an independent satellite analyst, the secretive payload could be the latest Future Imagery Architecture radar satellite that is capable of observing the ground through the veils of clouds and even at night.
Recent Classified Satellite Launch Failure
The recent launch of the Delta 4 rocket into orbit came days after SpaceX's launch of another secretive satellite codenamed Zuma. The aerospace company's Falcon 9 rocket was due to enter orbit on Jan. 9 but suffered a mission-ending failure shortly after liftoff.
According to one source, the Falcon 9 rocket, along with Zuma, fell back to Earth over the Indian Ocean. Its fate, as of this time, still remains unclear.