Saturday, December 05, 2009

Delta IV Roars Off On Spectacular Nighttime Flight

A Delta IV rocket roared off its Cape Canaveral launch pad tonight and cut a blazing trail into the night sky as it hauled a new military communications satellite toward an orbit 22,300 miles above the planet.

The 217-foot-tall United Launch Alliance rocket blast off from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:47 p.m. -- the very end of a 90-minute window of opportunity. Stiff upper-altitude winds prevented an on-time launch at 7:23 p.m.

The Delta IV looked like a bright ball ascending into dark skies as the rocket arced out over the Atlantic Ocean and sped toward orbit. A shooting star could be seen streaking through the skies about 90 seconds after liftoff and then four solid rocket motors peeled away from the first stage 10 seconds later. The solid-fueled boosters could be seen tumbling like bright orange embers as the spent motors plummeted toward the ocean.

No problems were reported during the initial climb toward orbit.

The rocket is carrying a Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft -- an advanced Air Force communications satellite that will serve U.S. and allied troops on missions around the world, including those now taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Retired Air Force Capt. John Kutz, a 57-year-old Titusville resident who now is the lead avionics engineer for United Launch Alliance, knows exactly how important communications satellites have become to American warfighters. Check out the story HERE.

The launch originally was set for Wednesday, but late Tuesday, managers pushed it back 24 hours as a result of an approaching storm system. Stiff upper level winds and thick clouds held up a countdown Thursday and then an electrical card in a ground launch control system failed as the end of the window approached that night.

The launch was rescheduled for Friday, but managers reset it for tonight to give engineers time to replace the faulty card and then install and test a spare.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge the Florida Today image (top) of the Delta IV rocket leaping off its Cape Canaveral launch pad with a new military communications satellite onboard. Photo credit: Michael R. Brown/Florida Today. The second image, from United Launch Alliance image of Delta IV rocket on Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo Credit: Pat Corkery/United Launch Alliance.

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