Big parts of the US government are closed, but espionage does not wait for anyone. US military launched a Delta-IV missile on Saturday at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but its useful load is a mystery. Why? Whatever America has begun in space, it is for the National Intelligence Service (NRO) – the eyes of the military and intelligence community in the sky.
As the Associated Press notes, this mission, called the NROL-71, has been delayed again and again. First, it was canceled on 7 and 8 December 2018 due to technical problems, then it was a strong wind on 18 December 2018, and finally again had to rub off the shot due to hydrogen leakage on December 20, 2018 finally found it.
The 30th Space Wing released a video at the launch at the 6th Complex in Vandenberg, which is quite cool. You can watch it on YouTube or in the built-in below.
As the Associated Press points out, the video source stops prematurely, which is standard for every payload classified. So if you die to know what's inside, you'll have to wait maybe 50-100 years.
The NRA is not too excited about declassifying things, as we have seen many times before. Even the NRA's useful cargoes, which secretly developed with the space shuttle program in the 1980s, were not declassified. All we know is that they exist.
And if you're wondering why the launch looks so … fiery, there's good reason to do so.
Ars Technica explains:
Developed in the 1990s by Rocketdyne, the usable RS-68 engine is designed to be cheaper and more powerful than RS-25's major Space Shuttle engines. Like the Shuttle engines, the RS-68 engine runs on a cryogenic fuel mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
The fireball phenomenon appears on the Delta IV missile due to the differences in design between the major RS-68 and Shuttle engines and because the RS-68 fuel valve is opened longer before the oxidant starts to run. Essentially, when running the engine through the engine, only liquid hydrogen passes because it is less chemically active than oxygen.
So you got it. We do not know exactly what went into space and we do not know when we will learn. Everything we know? It looks cool as hell.[Air Force Times and Ars Technica]