Although it occurred more than two days later than originally planned, Vandenberg Air Force Base launched its first rocket of 2018 Friday without a hitch.
A Delta IV rocket, provided by United Launch Alliance, lifted off from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-6 just after 2:11 p.m. The rocket, which sailed through a mostly clear sky over the Lompoc Valley, carried with it a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The mission was dubbed NROL-47.
Col. Greg Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, was the launch commander.
"This was an incredibly important launch for the 30th Space Wing and our mission partners," Wood said. "The entire team — the 30th Space Wing, the National Reconnaissance Office, United Launch Alliance, and others — worked hand in hand to ensure this launch was safe and successful. This was an outstanding effort by everyone."
The launch had initially been planned for Wednesday, Jan. 10, but was pushed to a day later due to high ground winds, base officials reported Jan. 10. Then, shortly before the planned 1 p.m. launch time on Thursday, ULA announced another delay. Nearly four hours later, officials decided to postpone the launch until Friday.
Thursday's delays were due to an issue with a ground system valve, according to ULA, which had also earlier reported issues with swing arms, which connect parts of the rocket to the launchpad and typically move away from the vehicle between ignition and liftoff.
There seemed to be concern that the launch would be delayed again Friday after ULA reported a ground system helium problem. That issue was cleared up by early afternoon, however.
In addition to being the first launch this year from VAFB, the NROL-47 mission was also the first overall launch of 2018 for ULA.
The NRO is one of 16 intelligence-gathering agencies within the U.S. government. According to the organization’s website, “together with other Defense Department satellites, the NRO systems play a crucial role in providing global communications, precision navigation, early warning of missile launches and potential military aggression, signals intelligence, and near real-time imagery to U.S. forces to support the war on terrorism and other continuing operations.”