'Rocket cam' takes you aboard final launch of ULA's Delta IV Heavy (video)

Stunning rocket cam footage captures the final Delta IV Heavy launch, closing out the program after 64 years of delivering large payloads into space. 

The United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex-37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 12:53 p.m. EDT (1653 GMT) on April 9. The mission, known as NROL-70, carried a classified spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). 

The launch was the 16th and final flight for the Delta IV Heavy rocket, and the 45th and last flight of a Delta IV launcher. It was also the final Delta launch of any kind, ending a string of 389 missions dating back to 1960.

Related: 'Heavy' history: ULA launches final Delta rocket after 64 years (video, photos)

Screenshot of a United Launch Alliance video showing the final launch of the company's Delta IV Heavy rocket on April 9, 2024. (Image credit: ULA via YouTube)

"We have ignition!" officials said in the video, as they counted down to launch. "And, liftoff of the final United Launch Alliance Delta IV heavy rocket carrying NROL-70 for the National Reconnaissance Office and closing Delta's six-decade legacy of excellence in space." 

The video includes views from both ground-based and onboard video cameras, documenting the rocket's successful final launch. From both angles, cameras watched the ignition sequence, with flames and plumes of smoke billowing up and around the rocket as it lifted off from the ground.

The onboard cameras capture Earth slipping into the distance as the rocket travels into space. Its side boosters separated around four minutes into the flight, followed by the second stage separation about two minutes later, leaving the Delta IV upper stage to complete a series of burns to deliver the classified NRO satellite to its orbital position, which is generally performed in secret and therefore not seen on the video footage. 

The final Delta IV launch — which was originally scheduled for March 28 but aborted minutes before liftoff due to trouble with the rocket's nitrogen distribution system — marks the transition to ULA's next generation rocket, Vulcan Centaur

"The Delta rocket played a pivotal role in the evolution of space flight since the 1960s," Tory Bruno, ULA's president and CEO, said in a statement following the April 9 launch. "This final Delta mission signals ULA's evolution to the new Vulcan rocket, providing even higher performance than our three-core Delta IV Heavy rocket in a single-core rocket to launch heavy-class missions for the nation. We will continue to deliver our superior reliability and unprecedented orbital precision for all our customers across the national security, civil and commercial markets."

Vulcan Centaur launched on its first mission, called Cert-1, on Jan. 8, 2024, carrying Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander. While the launch went smoothly, Peregrine suffered a propulsion anomaly that created a significant propellant leak and ultimately led to the spacecraft burning up as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere.  

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.