Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:


Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to

Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

ULA’s Delta-4 Heavy successfully launches NRO spy satellite

ULA today successfully used its most powerful rocket, the Delta-4 Heavy, to place a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) surveillance satellite into orbit.

ULA now only has three Delta-4 Heavy’s in its inventory. After those launch the rocket will be retired, to be replaced by the most powerful versions of its new Vulcan rocket.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

11 SpaceX
8 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 16 to 8 in the national rankings.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • mkent

    For the record, this was ULA’s first launch of the year.

  • mkent: You are correct. In updating my database I accidently entered this ULA launch in the Northrop Grumman column, and then assumed the “2” was for ULA. I have fixed it all.

    It is amazing that we are near the end of April, and only now are both ULA and Europe doing their first launches.

  • mkent

    India too.

  • mkent: No, India completed its one successful launch two months ago, at the end of February. And while this is a low launch pace, it is not much different than their average pace, as they even their best years the most launches they managed was seven.

    ULA however until 2017 used to routinely launch about a dozen times a year, while until 2019 Arianespace managed for years to achieve just under that number. Last year’s low numbers could be assigned to COVID, but that’s not an excuse so far this year. Both companies are far down in launches this year, though of course it is early and things could change.

  • mkent

    Bob: You’re right! I completely forgot about the Amazonia launch, maybe because the primary payload was for Brazil and not India itself. I stand corrected.

    In ULA’s case, they’re waiting for payloads. They have several Atlas Vs ready to go waiting for their payload. They still hope to get ten launches off this year, but again, that will be dependent on the payloads being ready. Now that the Delta IV Heavy went off without a hitch, I suspect the only launch threatened by a delayed launch vehicle will be the inaugural Vulcan launch.

Readers: the rules for commenting!


No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.


However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.


Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *