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News | April 28, 2021

DLA Energy supports National Reconnaissance Office rocket launch

By Irene Smith DLA Energy Public Affairs

A Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a national security payload designed, built, and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office launched from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California April 26.

Defense Logistics Agency Energy supplied the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that powered the three United Launch Alliance rocket engines creating a combined total of more than 2.1 million pounds of thrust needed for liftoff.

“Incredible work by all to make this launch a success,” said DLA Energy Commander Air Force Brig. Gen. Jimmy Canlas. “I commend the DLA Energy Aerospace Team for their magnificent efforts in overcoming multiple challenges and obstacles to support our mission partners, the U.S. Space Force and NRO. Well done!”

As the Department of Defense Integrated Materiel Manager for space and space-related products, DLA Energy Aerospace Energy provides the fuel sources for a variety of DoD, federal and commercial space missions.

“An immense amount of work and preparation has gone into their effort,” said Doug Smith, DLA Energy Aerospace Energy Director of Supplier Operations. “The Delta IV Heavy is the largest and heaviest launch vehicle currently used by United Launch Alliance. Aerospace Energy provided major support to the NRO on this classified mission by providing the hydrogen (fuel) and oxygen (oxidizer) for the rocket itself as well as gaseous nitrogen to the pad. We also did a major upgrade via our contract to the gaseous nitrogen plant to support this launch.”

Smith said that to prepare for the launch, the three common rocket booster cores were loaded with 330,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen chilled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquid hydrogen, along with the liquid oxygen, is consumed by the three RS-68A main engines during the first minutes of the launch to exit Earth’s atmosphere.

Each space launch attempt consumes 160,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and 150,000 gallons of nitrogen support, Smith added.

“It is always something to be proud of when you are able to support the launch of a rocket, but this one was a major success for our customer, NRO, the U.S. Space Force, and the Aerospace Energy staff, who ensured the required hydrogen, oxygen and gaseous nitrogen were provided for this launch,” Smith said. “While the launch itself happens so quickly, there were years’ worth of work to assure all pre-launch activities were completed on time, to allow this launch to go up – and when it did, it was a thing of beauty!”

Space Launch Complex-6 is the West Coast home of the Delta IV rocket. According to the United Launch Alliance website, recently made pad upgrades to the facility ahead of the upcoming Delta IV Heavy launch of the NROL-82 mission for the NRO. NROL-82 was the 13th launch from this complex, the 9th by a Delta IV and 4th Heavy.