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Delta waits (copy)

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, carrying a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, sits on its pad Dec. 19 at Vandenberg Air Force Base's Space Launch Complex-6. The launch, which has been delayed several times, will happen no sooner than Sunday, Jan. 6, according to ULA.

The launch of a Delta IV Heavy rocket that had originally been planned for early December from Vandenberg Air Force Base has now been pushed into early 2019, at the soonest.

United Launch Alliance, which is providing the rocket, announced Friday morning that the liftoff will not occur before Jan. 6. That revelation follows a series of postponements and delays for the mission, dubbed NROL-71, which will carry a secret payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Following the fifth postponement on Dec. 20, ULA had announced that the launch would not occur before Dec. 30, a timeline that was extended Friday.

The launch had initially been planned for Dec. 7 but was postponed that day "due to an issue with a redundant communication link between the control center and the launch site," according to ULA.

It was rescheduled for Dec. 8 but was postponed again that day with just 7 seconds remaining in the prelaunch countdown "due to a problem detected by the Terminal Countdown Sequencer Rack," ULA reported.

It was rescheduled again for the evening of Dec. 18, but was called off early that afternoon due to high ground winds.

On Dec. 19, it was called off again due to "indications of elevated hydrogen concentrations within the port booster engine section," ULA reported.

Following that Dec. 19 delay, ULA reported that it would attempt the launch again on the evening of Dec. 20, but those plans were nixed early that morning several hours ahead of the planned launch window.

If the launch does go off on Jan. 6, it will mark the first of 2019 from VAFB. A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 7 from the base, according to the launch tracking website SpaceFlightNow.com, as part of the ongoing series of launches related to the Iridium NEXT constellation of communication satellites.

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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