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The Mission




Rocket: Delta 4 Medium+
Payload: NRO L-22
Date: June 27, 2006
Period: 7 to 9 p.m. PDT (10 p.m.-12 a.m. EDT)
Site: SLC-6, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Broadcast: AMC 1, Transponder 17, C-band, 103° West

Mission Status Center

Photos: Pre-launch

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Launch events timeline

Ground track map

Delta 4 background info

Rocket processing flow

RS-68 main engine

Booster graphic

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BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the countdown and first California launch of Boeing's Delta 4 rocket. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 28, 2006

A new spy satellite is circling Earth after a spectacular sendoff Tuesday evening, marking the first time such a clandestine national security spacecraft has launched aboard America's modern breed of rockets. Read our launch story.

0520 GMT (1:20 a.m. EDT)

Tonight's launch was very pretty as the Delta 4 soared into clear skies just after sunset. We've posted a photo gallery featuring some of the first shots of the liftoff. See the images here.

0433 GMT (12:33 a.m. EDT)

"The Delta 4 fleet was developed in partnership with the Boeing Company for the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program," said Col. Jim Planeaux, the Space and Missile Systems Center's Delta 4 program manager.

"This first launch of the Delta 4 from the West Coast culminates a tremendous effort by the Boeing, Air Force and NRO team. It represents a very important milestone for the EELV program in providing assured access to space for critical national security payloads."

0432 GMT (12:32 a.m. EDT)

"The success of this first launch of a Boeing Delta 4 rocket from the West Coast is a tremendous milestone for the Space and Missile Systems Center, the NRO, the 30th Space Wing, the Aerospace Corp and the entire launch team," said Lt. Gen Michael Hamel, commander, Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base.

"I want to congratulate and thank everyone for their hard work and dedication to the success of this mission. This launch extends our record to 45 successful operational military space launches in a row. This is an outstanding accomplishment and a huge achievement for the team and the nation."

0428 GMT (12:28 a.m. EDT)

Hearty applause and handshakes all around the mission management center following today's successful launch.

0427 GMT (12:27 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 54 minutes, 23 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! A clandestine spacecraft for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office has been released into orbit from the Delta 4 rocket, completing the first Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle mission from the West Coast!

0424 GMT (12:24 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 51 minutes, 15 seconds. About three minutes from completing this sixth flight of Boeing's Delta 4 rocket.

0423 GMT (12:23 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 50 minutes, 43 seconds. The spin-up has begun as planned.

0422 GMT (12:22 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 49 minutes, 10 seconds. The vehicle is now confirmed to be in the payload deploy orientation.

0421 GMT (12:21 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 48 minutes. The next step in preparing for deployment of the payload is gently spinning up the stage like a top to 5 rpm. That should start in about two minutes.

0418 GMT (12:18 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 45 minutes. The rocket stage will be reorienting itself into the proper position for releasing the payload. Separation is expected less than 10 minutes from now.

0416 GMT (12:16 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 43 minutes, 42 seconds. Engine cutoff. The powered phase of tonight's Delta 4 mission to loft classified payload has been concluded. The planned target orbit, according to the press site, should be 601 by 20,308 nautical miles with an inclination of 62.4 degrees.

0415 GMT (12:15 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 42 minutes, 30 seconds. Burn remains in progress.

0414 GMT (12:14 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 41 minutes, 45 seconds. Second stage systems looking good.

0413 GMT (12:13 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 40 minutes, 55 seconds. Good steady state chamber pressure on the second stage engine.

0413 GMT (12:13 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 40 minutes, 23 seconds. Engine start! The RL10 powerplant is firing again to reach a higher orbit for deployment of the spy satellite payload.

0412 GMT (12:12 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 39 minutes. This upcoming burn by the liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine will last just over three minutes.

0408 GMT (12:08 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 35 minutes, 20 seconds. Delta is 470 nautical miles in altitude and speeding along at 25,111 feet per second.

0407 GMT (12:07 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 34 minutes, 30 seconds. Ignition is six minutes away.

0406 GMT (12:06 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 33 minutes, 41 seconds. The second stage has ended the passive thermal control roll and started its turn to the engine burn orientation.

0403 GMT (12:03 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 30 minutes. The second stage remains in the quiet coast through space. It is gently rolling to ensure the thermal conditions are evenly distributed across the vehicle.

0402 GMT (12:02 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 29 minutes. The official liftoff time was 0333:00.194 GMT.

0400 GMT (12:00 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 27 minutes, 20 seconds. The vehicle is 235.9 nautical miles in altitude and traveling at 26,562 feet per second.

0359 GMT (11:59 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 26 minutes, 20 seconds. A downrange tracking station in the Falkland Islands has acquired the Delta 4 rocket's signal.

0358 GMT (11:58 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 25 minutes. The target parking orbit, according to the press kit, has a high point of 1,196 nautical miles, low point of 104 nautical miles and an inclination of 62.5 degrees to the equator. The actual orbit achieved tonight has not been announced, which is expected given the nature of the payload.

0353 GMT (11:53 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 20 minutes. To see the track the rocket is following this evening, click here.

0349 GMT (11:49 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 16 minutes. The rocket has passing out of range from the "Big Crow" downrange telemetry aircraft flying above the Pacific. Communications will be restored in a few minutes via a tracking station

0348 GMT (11:48 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 15 minutes. The vehicle is now in a coast mode for the next 25 minutes before the RL10 engine is re-ignited.

0347 GMT (11:47 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 14 minutes, 26 seconds. SECO 1. Confirmation that the second stage engine has shut down after the first of two planned firings to inject the classified spacecraft payload into the target orbit.

0346 GMT (11:46 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 13 minutes, 25 seconds. A quick-look at the performance numbers from the first stage for speed and apogee altitude appear good, Boeing says.

0345 GMT (11:45 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 12 minutes. Engine pressures still looking normal.

0344 GMT (11:44 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 11 minutes. No problems reported with second stage systems as the RL10 engine fires to reach a parking orbit this evening.

0343 GMT (11:43 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Now 10 minutes since liftoff.

0342 GMT (11:42 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 9 minutes, 15 seconds. The RL10 engine is burning a mixture of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen cryogenic propellants.

0341 GMT (11:41 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 8 minutes, 30 seconds. About six minutes remain in this burn by the second stage.

0340 GMT (11:40 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 7 minutes. The second stage engine continues to fire. This burn will place the vehicle into an initial parking orbit around Earth.

0339 GMT (11:39 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 6 minutes. Good chamber pressure being reported from the RL10 engine as it thrusts to reach orbit.

0337 GMT (11:37 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 4 minutes, 48 seconds. The two-piece protective payload fairing enclosing the spacecraft atop the rocket has separated.

0337 GMT (11:37 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 4 minutes, 32 seconds. The cryogenic RL10B-2 upper stage engine has ignited!

0337 GMT (11:37 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 4 minutes, 18 seconds. The Common Booster Core first stage and the attached interstage have been separated in one piece from the Delta 4's upper stage. The upper stage engine's extendible nozzle is dropping into position.

0337 GMT (11:37 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 4 minutes, 12 seconds. MECO! Main engine cutoff confirmed as the RS-68 powerplant shuts down.

0336 GMT (11:36 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. The RS-68 is consuming nearly a ton of propellants per second as the powerplant pushes the Delta 4 rocket closer to the edge of space.

0336 GMT (11:36 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 3 minutes. The Delta is flying smoothly on its southward trajectory from California.

0335 GMT (11:35 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 2 minutes, 15 seconds. Good chamber pressure reported on the main engine.

0334 GMT (11:34 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 1 minute, 58 seconds. Solid motor separation! The spent boosters have been shed from the first stage. Delta 4 continues powering its way toward space on the thrust generated by the RS-68 main engine.

0334 GMT (11:34 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 1 minute, 39 seconds. The twin solid rocket boosters have burned out of their propellant. Standing by for jettison.

0334 GMT (11:34 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 60 seconds. Now passing through the region of maximum aerodynamic pressure.

0333 GMT (11:33 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 50 seconds. The launcher has broken the sound barrier.

0333 GMT (11:33 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T+plus 30 seconds. The Delta 4 rocket is manuevering on course with the main engine is firing at full throttle and the two strap-on boosters are giving a powerful extra kick.

0333 GMT (11:33 p.m. EDT Tues.)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Boeing Delta 4 rocket, beginning a new era for space launches from America's West Coast. And the vehicle has cleared the tower!

0332 GMT (11:32 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 12 seconds. Residual hydrogen burnoff ignitors have been fired beneath the main engine.

0332 GMT (11:32 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 22 seconds. The steering system for the twin solid rocket motor nozzles has been activated.

0332 GMT (11:32 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 30 seconds. Green board. All systems remain "go" for launch.

0332 GMT (11:32 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 35 seconds. Second stage liquid hydrogen tank is at flight level.

0332 GMT (11:32 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 1 minute and counting. The ignition conditions for the RS-68 main engine are "go." The terminal countdown sequencer will take control at T-minus 8.5 seconds. Ignition of the RS-68 powerplant will follow at T-minus 5.5 seconds. The engine powers up to the 102 percent level of thrust for a computer-controlled checkout before liftoff.

0331 GMT (11:31 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 65 seconds. Second stage liquid oxygen tank has been secured at flight level.

0331 GMT (11:31 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 70 seconds. The Air Force-controlled Range has given its "go" for launch.

0331 GMT (11:31 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 80 seconds. The liquid hydrogen fuel tank on the second stage is being secured for launch.

0331 GMT (11:31 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 2 minutes. Securing of the second stage liquid oxygen tank is starting.

0330 GMT (11:30 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 2 minutes, 10 seconds. First stage cryogenic tanks are reported at flight levels and pressures.

0330 GMT (11:30 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 3 minutes and counting. The first stage liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen systems have been secured.

0329 GMT (11:29 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 4 minutes and counting. Vehicle ordnance is being armed.

0328 GMT (11:28 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 4 minutes, 20 seconds. The systems of the first and second stages of the Delta 4 rocket have switched from ground-fed power to internal batteries for launch.

0328 GMT (11:28 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting! The final phase of today's countdown has commenced for launch of Boeing's Delta 4 rocket carrying a secret spy satellite. Liftoff is set to occur at 8:33 p.m. PDT from Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

0327 GMT (11:27 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Clocks will resume in one minute.

0326 GMT (11:26 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Approval has been given to proceed with the countdown for liftoff at 0333 GMT.

0325 GMT (11:25 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The launch pad swing arm retraction system pins are being pulled. The two arms will be rotated away from the Delta 4 rocket at liftoff.

0324 GMT (11:24 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The team polling indicates everything is still "go" pending the weather.

0321 GMT (11:21 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The launch team will be polled again in a few minutes to verify all systems remain "go" for liftoff.

0318 GMT (11:18 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The sun is beginning to set along the Pacific coastline. The Delta 4 rocket continues to sway in the wind blowing across Vandenberg Air Force Base. Whether the winds will ease -- and ease quick enough -- to allow liftoff at the last minute of today's available window remains to be seen.

0307 GMT (11:07 p.m. EDT Tues.)

HOLD EXTENDED. Launch is being rescheduled for 0333 GMT (8:33 p.m. local; 11:33 p.m. EDT) to wait for the winds to decrease. That is the end of today's available launch window, meaning if the Delta 4 doesn't fly then it must wait until tomorrow night.

0305 GMT (11:05 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The pre-launch poll is complete. Everyone voiced a ready status to continue for launch, pending the winds.

0304 GMT (11:04 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Launch team readiness polling is beginning.

0259 GMT (10:59 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Today's launch window opens in 15 minutes. Now awaiting further word from the launch weather officer on the wind conditions at the pad.

0254 GMT (10:54 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 5 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered a planned 15-minute hold. This pause is designed to give the launch team the opportunity to catch up on any work running behind schedule and verify all is in readiness for the final moments of the count. A series of management polls will be conducted during the hold to give approval to proceed with the launch.

Obviously, the winds at Space Launch Complex 6 will be the hot topic of discussion during this hold.

0253 GMT (10:53 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Just about to go into the final hold point. Winds continue to be the primary obstacle standing in the way of liftoff tonight.

0249 GMT (10:49 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 10 minutes and counting. The countdown will enter a planned hold in five minutes.

0244 GMT (10:44 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Now 30 minutes till launch, if the winds somehow cooperate.

0237 GMT (10:37 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Officials say the plan will be press on with the countdown and continue monitoring the winds.

0236 GMT (10:36 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The winds are now 28 knots at the launch pad. They have been increasing over the past hour. Forecasters say there's a 70 percent chance the winds will be "no go" for launch.

0229 GMT (10:29 p.m. EDT Tues.)

T-minus 30 minutes and counting. The countdown is headed to the T-minus 5 minute point where a 15-minute hold is planned. Liftoff is targeted for 0314 GMT, the opening of today's launch window.

0224 GMT (10:24 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The first stage Common Booster Core slews and the commanding tests for the strap-on solid rocket motors have been finished, wrapping up this pre-launch program.

0216 GMT (10:16 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The second stage engine steering checks have been completed. The first stage tests are next.

0215 GMT (10:15 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Winds continue to be higher than allowable limits for launch.

0210 GMT (10:10 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The team is now preparing to conduct the steering checks of the Delta 4 rocket's engines, starting with the second stage RL10 engine.

0209 GMT (10:09 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The RS-68 first stage main engine spin start pressurization operation is starting.

0206 GMT (10:06 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The Air Force-controlled Western Range has performed the inhibited command destruct receiver checks. This ensures safety personnel can destroy the Delta 4 rocket if it veers off course.

0152 GMT (9:52 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Health checks of the command receiver decoder devices on the rocket are underway. These units would hear the command from Range Safety and trigger the Delta 4's destruct system if a problem occurred during launch.

0144 GMT (9:44 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Now entering the last 90 minutes of the countdown. This phase of the count is mostly quiet, now that the Delta 4 rocket has been fueled up for launch. The launch team is monitoring systems while the clocks tick down. The next couple of milestones will be checks of the rocket's safety system and a series of engine steering tests.

0130 GMT (9:30 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The low clouds and fog have lifted away from the pad. There's still some high cloudiness over California's Central Coast. But the conditions look a whole lot better now than they have most of the afternoon. Spectators throughout the region should be able to see the Delta 4 rocket's ascent, weather permitting.

Winds are the main worry for violating the launch rules at liftoff time. Right now, forecasters say there's an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions for the Delta to fly tonight.

0128 GMT (9:28 p.m. EDT Tues.)

All four cryogenic fuel tanks aboard the Delta 4 rocket have entered replenish mode to replace the propellants that boil off given their supercold nature.

0125 GMT (9:25 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Earlier in the countdown while fueling was delayed by high winds, the launch team performed the rocket tracking beacon tests and the RF link checks for the vehicle data streams. Those activities normally occur after fueling but the timeline was juggled around.

0122 GMT (9:22 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Engineers have conducted the standard evaluation of the Delta 4 rocket's thermal insulation following the loading of supercold propellants into the vehicle.

0114 GMT (9:14 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Two hours to go until liftoff of the first Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle from Vandenberg.

0108 GMT (9:08 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The topping mode is starting for the second stage's liquid hydrogen tank.

0058 GMT (8:58 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Confirmation now that the second stage liquid hydrogen tank has been filled up, completing the loading of the four cryo tanks on the Delta 4 rocket.

0047 GMT (8:47 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Second stage liquid oxygen tank is now loaded.

0044 GMT (8:44 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The countdown is entering the last two-and-a-half hours before launch. Fueling of the Boeing Delta 4 rocket continues for today's 8:14 p.m. PDT (11:14 p.m. EDT; 0314 GMT) liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

0041 GMT (8:41 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Post-filling tests on the first stage liquid oxygen system have been performed. The tank is now entering topping mode.

0032 GMT (8:32 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Loading of the first stage liquid hydrogen tank is reported complete.

0023 GMT (8:23 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The first stage liquid oxygen loading just finished. The tank has been loaded with its supercold oxidizer that is chilled to Minus-298 degrees F. Topping will be completed a little later, after the launch team performs vent and relief checks.

0020 GMT (8:20 p.m. EDT Tues.)

Space Launch Complex 6 has giant sphere-shaped fuel tanks to store the cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for the Delta 4 rocket.

The cryogenics flow from the storage tanks, through pipes to the base of the pad. For the first stage, the propellants are routed up to the launch table upon which the rocket sits. Tail service masts, the large box-like structures at the base of the vehicle, feed the oxygen and hydrogen to the stage in separate umbilicals. The second stage receives its cryos from a swing arm that extends from the Fixed Umbilical Tower to the front-side of the rocket.

0015 GMT (8:15 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The second stage conditioning on the liquid hydrogen side has finished. Loading of the tank is starting. This is the last of the rocket's four cryogenic supplies to be filled in today's countdown to launch.

0012 GMT (8:12 p.m. EDT Tues.)

The chilldown of the second stage liquid oxygen system is reported complete, clearing the way for loading the rocket's tank.

TUESDAY, JUNE 27, 2006
2358 GMT (7:58 p.m. EDT)


The launch team will be starting the chilldown conditioning of the second stage liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen systems in advance of fill those tanks as the countdown rolls on.

Read our earlier status center coverage.



Copyright 2006 SpaceflightNow.com, all rights reserved.


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