Launch of New US Spy Satellite Delayed Again

The much-delayed launch of a new U.S. spy satellite has been postponed again due to an issue with its rocket, but it's unclear exactly when the mission will fly.

The United Launch Alliance, which built the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will launch the satellite, was aiming for a Jan. 6 launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. But on Saturday (Jan. 5), ULA announced it was standing down from the launch try. The National Reconnaissance Office satellite, called NROL-71, was initially scheduled to launch in early December, ony to be delayed several times by technical issues and bad weather. The most recent launch attempt on Dec. 19 was called off due to a suspected hydrogen leak on the Delta IV Heavy booster. 

"We continue to remedy the technical issues that caused the last scrub of the Delta IV Heavy, and are working with our partners, the National Reconnaissance Office and the U.S. Air Force, to ensure that we fly when it is safe to do so," Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial programs, said in a statement. "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."

The Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the NROL-71 spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office is seen during tower rollback operations at Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

ULA initially attempted to launch the classifed NROL-71 mission on Dec. 7 and 8, but stood down due to technical issues. Bad weather postponed a Dec. 18 launch attempt, with the off-nominal hydrogen readings forcing the Dec. 19 scrub. ULA then announced a Dec. 30 launch target, before slipping to Jan. 6 ahead of the latest delay. 

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.