A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket has successfully launched and deployed a classified payload designated NROL-47. The national security payload will be operated by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), a governmental agency responsible for U.S. reconnaissance satellites.
The Delta IV launch vehicle with its classified cargo secured aboard lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 00:00 GMT (00:00 EST) on Friday, January 12. Initially scheduled for Wednesday, the launch was delayed first due to bad weather. The launch was then again delayed yesterday following two separate faults discovered within the last 2 minutes of two separate countdowns.
Today’s launch mark’s the 27th NRO deployment by launch services provider ULA aboard Delta IV, Delta II and Atlas V rockets. In late September last year, ULA successfully launched and deployed the NROL-42 spy satellite aboard an Atlas V.
What we know about NROL-47
As with all NRO payloads, the design, specifications and capabilities of the payload are classified. However, when public announcements, rocket specifications and launch sites are considered, many industry experts believe that the payload is likely “some form of Radar imaging satellite”.
Spaceflight101.com has gone one step further reporting, “NROL-47, with a fair degree of certainty, is the fifth FIA-Radar Satellite operated under the Future Imagery Architecture Program”. If it is, in fact, the fifth FIA-Radar satellite, it could tentatively be referred to as Topaz 5. Topaz 4 (FIA-Radar 4, NROL-45) was launched almost 2 years ago on February 10, 2016. Topez 1,2 and 3 were launched in 2010, 2012 and 2013 respectively.
If NROL-47 is the latest addition to the Future Imagery Architecture Program, it could be a controversial move on the part of the NRO. Former NRO director Bruce Carlson was quoted in 2010 as stating the program was “700 percent over in schedule and 300 percent over in budget.”