Watch the Latest Military Rocket Launch That Takes Secret Payload



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GIF: 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

Most of the US government is closed, but espionage is not waiting for anyone. The US military launched a Delta-IV rocket on Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but its cargo is a mystery. Why? Whatever America has just launched into space is for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – the eyes of the military and intelligence community in the sky.

As the Associated Press notes, this mission, called NROL-71, has been postponed many times. First canceled on 7 and 8 December 2018 due to technical problems, then strong winds on December 18 2018, and finally they had to scrub the launch again because of the hydrogen leak on December 20, 2018. But this time they finally understood.

The 30th Space Wing has released a launch video, performed on the Complex-6 at Vandenberg, which is very cool. You can watch it on YouTube or embed it below.

As the Associated Press pointed out, video feeds are disconnected prematurely, which is the standard for every secret charge. So if you want to know what's inside, you have to wait maybe 50-100 years.

NRO is not too eager to declassify things, as we have seen many times before. Even the NRO cargo that had quietly risen with the shuttle program in the 1980s had not yet been classified. What we know is that they exist.

And if you're wondering why the launch looks like … firey, there's a good reason for that.

Ars Technica explains:

Developed during the 1990s by Rocketdyne, the discarded RS-68 engine was designed to be cheaper and stronger than the main RS-25 engine that can be reused by the Space Shuttle. Like the Shuttle engine, the RS-68 engine operates with a mixture of cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

The fireball phenomenon manifests on the Delta IV Heavy rocket because of the design differences between the RS-68 and the Shuttle main engine, and because the RS-68 fuel valve opens longer before the oxidizer starts flowing. Basically, when the engine is turned on, only liquid hydrogen runs through the engine, because it is less chemically active than oxygen.

So that's how it is. We don't know what just happened and we don't know when we will study. Everything we know? This looks really cool.

[Air Force Times and Ars Technica]

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