Rocket on fire: ULA launches penultimate Delta Heavy in fiery liftoff

Delta IV Heavy’s penultimate launch happened Thursday at 5:18 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

After 15 years, United Launch Alliance launched its second to last Delta IV Heavy rocket on Thursday with a national security mission.

Delta IV Heavy’s penultimate launch was scheduled for early Wednesday from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. However, the launch was delayed due to an issue with a ground system pneumatic value, according to ULA.

The second attempt to launch on Thursday was a success when the Delta IV Heavy roared to life at 5:18 a.m. ET. 

The heavy-lift rocket launched the NROL-68 spacecraft to orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Delta IV Heavy is a rare and powerful bird to see launch on Florida’s Space Coast. The rocket has three side-by-side booster cores, each with Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A engines providing a combined 2.1 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. Four states contribute engineering, design, testing and parts for the rocket, including Colorado, California, Alabama and Florida. 

When the engines ignite, the reaction with the hydrogen fuel causes a huge flame to travel up the rocket boosters making the Delta IV Heavy look like a giant fireball taking off.

This launch marks the rocket's 15th and second to last as ULA prepares to launch its new Vulcan Centaur rocket later this year. 


Who will be able to see the Delta IV Heavy launch?

If you were lucky enough to be on Florida's Space Coast for the launch, you could hear the Delta IV Heavy roar before you saw it. As the rocket accelerated, people beyond the immediate launch area could see the rocket as it sped away from Earth.

In Florida, those on the East Coast within an hour of the launch site in all directions could see the rocket one to two minutes after liftoff.

The bright rocket barreling through the sky was also visible about five minutes after liftoff from Miami all the way to Jacksonville.