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Delta IV Heavy waits (copy)

In this Dec. 18, 2018, file photo, the sun rises over a Delta IV Heavy rocket as it sits on its pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base's Space Launch Complex-6. The launch of the rocket, which has been delayed several times since December, is now scheduled for Saturday. The rocket is set to carry a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Following a series of postponements that began more than a month ago, United Launch Alliance is now targeting Saturday, Jan. 19, to send off a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The launch is scheduled for 11:05 a.m. from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-6, a ULA spokeswoman revealed Tuesday morning. The rocket is slated to carry a classified payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office in a mission dubbed NROL-71.

The launch, if it goes off as planned on Saturday, would mark the second of the year from VAFB, and also conclude a long string of delays for the NROL-71 mission that began when it was first postponed on Dec. 7.

Technical communication issues led to that first scrubbing, and the launch was almost a go the very next day, on Dec. 8, but it was stopped with just 7 seconds remaining in the pre-launch countdown "due to a problem detected by the Terminal Countdown Sequencer Rack," ULA reported.

The mission was delayed again 10 days later due to weather concerns and then pushed back again a day after that due to "indications of elevated hydrogen concentrations within the port booster engine section," ULA reported.

It was postponed again on Dec. 20 and ULA announced shortly after that it would be put on hold until Dec. 30 at the soonest. After that date passed, the company announced that it would not launch until sometime after Jan. 6. No firm target date was announced again until Tuesday.

The rocket has remained at VAFB throughout the postponements.

The National Reconnaissance Office is an intelligence agency for the U.S. Department of Defense. The organization designs, builds and operates the nation’s reconnaissance satellites and provides satellite intelligence to several government agencies.

The first launch this year from VAFB occurred Jan. 11 when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivered into orbit the final 10 satellites for Iridium Communications’ NEXT constellation.

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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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