It took a bit longer than initially anticipated, but Saturday morning's launch of a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base was apparently worth the wait.
The United Launch Alliance rocket blasted off from the base's Space Launch Complex-6 at 11:10 a.m. following one last 5-minute delay. The successful liftoff marked the end of a series of postponements that had plagued the planned launch since early December. The rocket carried into orbit a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office in a mission dubbed NROL-71.
The rocket shot through a bright blue sky over the Lompoc Valley, leaving a thick contrail in its wake.
The launch, which was ULA's first of 2019, was surely a welcome sight for those involved in its operation over the past six weeks, as well as for those spectators around the Central Coast who had gathered at several viewing spots to watch it.
The launch was first postponed on Dec. 7 due to technical communication issues. It was almost a go the very next day, on Dec. 8, but 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.
The target date was then ultimately pushed into 2019 before launch officials settled on Saturday.
The National Reconnaissance Office, which managed the mission's payload, 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.
Saturday's launch was the 132nd overall for ULA, and the company's 28th for the NRO, ULA reported.
It was the 382nd launch involving a Delta rocket since 1960, the 38th for a Delta IV rocket since 2002 and the 11th for a Delta IV Heavy, according to ULA.
The first launch this year from VAFB occurred Jan. 11 when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took off to deliver the final set of NEXT satellites for Iridium Communications.