United Launch Alliance carried out its first flight in 2019 using the mightiest rocket in its arsenal - the Delta IV Heavy. Photo Credit: Ashly Cullumber / SpaceFlight Insider
United Launch Alliance carried out its first flight in 2019 using the mightiest rocket in its arsenal – the Delta IV Heavy. Photo Credit: Ashly Cullumber / SpaceFlight Insider

LOMPOC, Calif. — United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully completed its first flight of 2019. Today’s launch utilized the largest rocket in the Colorado-based company’s arsenal to send a classified payload into space. In doing so the company finally managed to move past a saga of delays.

ULA’s Delta IV Heavy rocket had been selected to send the classified NROL-71 payload to orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6) at 11:10 a.m. PST (2:10 p.m. EST), Jan. 19, 2019. The flight had been slated to get underway five minutes earlier but was pushed back to allow the team to complete final items before entering terminal count. That tiny adjustment marked the final slip for the oft-delayed mission.

NROL-71 had been slated to get underway on Sept. 26, Dec. 7, 8, 18, 19, 20 and 30 (in 2018). On Jan. 5, 2019 ULA stated that the launch date was “under review.”

“We understand that this is a high-priority mission for the nation’s warfighters and we take our commitment to safety and mission assurance seriously,”Gary Wentz, vice president of Government and Commercial programs said via a ULA-issued statement.

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket rests at Vandenberg's SLC-6 with the NROL-71 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. Photo Credit: Hunter Kilpatrick / SpaceFlight Insider
A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket rests at Vandenberg’s SLC-6 with the NROL-71 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. Photo Credit: Hunter Kilpatrick / SpaceFlight Insider

NROL-71 was ULA’s 28th flight for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the 38th launch of a Delta IV rocket (today’s flight marked only the 11th use of the rocket in its “Heavy” configuration). The Delta IV first took to the skies on Nov. 20 of 2002.

The NRO is the U.S. government’s…