Delta IV Heavy Performs Spectacularly Unnerving Nighttime Abort

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. — A Delta IV Heavy booster carrying a classified reconnaissance satellite experienced a nail biting abort early Saturday morning as flames licked at the bottom of the giant rocket.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) said the rocket’s automated control system aborted the launch at T minus 3 seconds. The engines on the Delta IV Heavy’s first-stage core and its two side boosters never ignited, the company said.

The abort occurred after the Delta IV Heavy’s radially outward firing initiators (ROFI) had begun firing as planned at T minus 15 seconds. The firing engulfed the bottom of the booster in flames, which is a normal occurrence.

Engineers safed the vehicle and began unloading propellant as a scrub was called. The cause of the abort is unclear, but ULA said it would take a minimum of seven days to recycle the launch.

The rocket’s payload was the NROL-44 satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. The payload is believed to be a signal intelligence gathering satellite.

It’s not known whether the abort will impact SpaceX’s plans to launch two Falcon 9 rockets on Sunday from a nearby pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Pad 39A at the adjoining Kennedy Space Center.