On Sunday, the United States' largest and most powerful unmanned rocket was launched into the skies above Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying what is said to be the most comprehensive reconnaissance satellite ever sent into space.
While the National Reconnaissance Office has refused to comment on the details of the cargo, citing confidentiality and security concerns, several media outlets have suggested that the massive satellite will be used for eavesdropping purposes.
Analysts told SpaceFlightNow that the U.S. government needed to elicit the help of the highly-powerful Delta-4 Heavy rocket to get the eavesdropping satellite up to its listening post. Officials with the United Launch Alliance, the commercial rocket company responsible for the launch, said that they were not even told what the satellite would be responsible for.
"I have no idea. The National Reconnaissance Office will have to answer," Michael J. Rein told Fox News in regards to questions about the cargo.
However, certain details of the mission, including the satellite's size and expected orbit, have made experts assume that the enormous antenna will be used to intercept enemy communications and support U.S. intelligence.
"I believe the payload is the fifth in the series of what we call Mentor spacecraft, a.k.a. Advanced Orion," Ted Molczan, a respected satellite tracker, told Spaceflight Now.
"The satellite likely consists of sensitive radio receivers and an antenna generally believed to span up to 100 meters (328 feet) to gather electronic intelligence for the National Security Agency (News - Alert)," he added.
The launch was originally supposed to occur on October 19, but was pushed back a few times after officials were forced to deal with wiring problems and other weather-related concerns. Sunday's launch was the fourth mission involving the Delta-4 Heavy rocket, which is capable of delivering an astounding two million pounds of thrust.
Due to the secure nature of the mission, the United Launch Alliance is not expected to offer up any status updates on the docking of the satellite.
Beecher Tuttle is a TMCnet contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Chris DiMarco