The Delta IV Heavy rocket that was set to carry a classified payload to orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office was forced to abort seconds after ignition.
Earlier this morning, a Delta IV Heavy sat poised for launch at Cape Canaveral carrying the classified NROL-44 mission. As the countdown hit five seconds before liftoff, the rocket’s three RS-68A engines ignited. Just two seconds later, the engines shut down and the announcer was greeted by what sounded like chirping crickets as he called out “lift-off.”
Moments after the anticlimactic events, the announcer confirmed the late abort stating, “we’ve obviously had a hot-fire abort.” United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno expanded in a post on his Twitter page stating the cause appeared “to have been in the ground system.” He went on to confirm that the abort system had “functioned as intended to protect the vehicle and payload.”
This morning’s abort was the third for the NROL-44 mission. The first on August 26 was at the request of the customer. The second was on August 27 after an issue with the ground pneumatics control system was identified.
According to ULA, teams are currently reviewing data that will enable them to determine the best path forward. However, the launch provider did confirm that the next attempt would not happen for at least seven days.
Once the NROL-44 mission is eventually launched, it will deploy a classified payload into a geosynchronous orbit. Although classified, it is believed to be the tenth Orion spy satellite. This class of satellites is operated by the National Reconnaissance Office and used to collect signals intelligence.