US Air Force launches biggest ever spy satellite

Posted by Kate Taylor

The US Air Force launched a massive spy satellite yesterday for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

For obvious reasons, the NRO is cagey about what exactly it's shot into space. But the satellite is believed to be the largest in the world, and to be aimed at intercepting communications via a vast array of radio receivers and an enormous antenna.

"I believe the payload is the fifth in the series of what we call Mentor spacecraft, a.k.a. Advanced Orion," satellite tracker Ted Molczan told Spaceflight Now.
 
"The satellite likely consists of sensitive radio receivers and an antenna generally believed to span up to 328 feet to gather electronic intelligence for the National Security Agency."

The package was launched in a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral yesterday afternoon. The NROL-32 mission was the fourth Delta IV Heavy launch and the 351st Delta program launch. The first for the NRO took place early last year.

"This second Delta IV Heavy launch for the NRO is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication by the combined NRO, Air Force, suplier and ULA team," said ULA vice president for mission operations Jim Sponnick.

"ULA is pleased to support the NRO as it protects our nation's security and supports our warriors defending ourr nation around the world."

The launch took place after a series of delays, most recently a fueling problem that prevented a planned launch on Friday. The next planned launch from the ULA will take place in January at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, and will carry another Delta IV Heavy for the NRO.