The ULA Delta IV heavy rocket puts on a show on its penultimate launch (photo)

    a rocket takes off at night

a rocket takes off at night

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base on June 22, and the launch was captured in stunning detail in photographs and video.

The launch, which lifted off at 5:18 a.m. EDT (0918 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-37’s Launch Pad 37B, carried mission NROL-68 on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

A YouTube video from the United Launch Alliance (ULA) shows the highlights of preparing for the mission, the fiery moment of ignition and the jaw-dropping view of the three cores of the RS-68 engine of the expendable heavy lift launch vehicle that provides approximately 705,000 pounds of thrust each to lift the Delta IV Heavy into orbit.

Related: Delta IV Heavy rocket launches US spy satellite on penultimate mission (video)

ULA shared some stunning images from the Delta IV Heavy NROL68 launch on its Twitter feed. One image showed flames erupting from the rocket case.

a plume of fire erupts from a rocket as it lifts off

a plume of fire erupts from a rocket as it lifts off

A second image shared by ULA shows an extreme close-up of the exhaust plumes issuing from the rocket’s thrusters as it lifts off.

a close up of three rocket engines firing

a close up of three rocket engines firing

A third image shows the Delta IV Heavy creating a bright streak across the sky as it heads towards orbit with a stunning flash of light at the base of the arc marking the moment of ignition.

a streak of light crosses the sky

a streak of light crosses the sky

Photographer Paul Paul Hennessy also captured some impressive images of the Delta IV rocket. One, taken on July 21, shows the massive scale of the 232-foot (70.7-meter) tall ULA launch vehicle and the calm before the storm as it sits on Launch Pad 37B awaiting liftoff.

a man photographs a rocket on a launch pad

a man photographs a rocket on a launch pad

Another image by Paul Hennessy, taken the next day, June 22, shows the moment of lift-off with the full rocket seen behind its launch complex.

a rocket explodes at night, creating a huge explosion of light

a rocket explodes at night, creating a huge explosion of light

Another picture posted on ULos Angeles blog showing the moment of launch sees the Delta IV framed on either side by a corridor of structures, scaffolding and gantries forming the infrastructure needed to ensure a successful launch.

a rocket lifts off between two towers

a rocket lifts off between two towers

The same blog points out that the June 22 flight of the Delta IV represents the 156th launch for ULA, with a 100% success rate.

ULA described the flight profile of the Delta IV Heavy mission, explaining that the rocket reaches Mach 1, the speed of sound, approximately 1 minute and 20 seconds after launch.

After 3 minutes 56 seconds, two of the RS-68 boosters aborted and the port and starboard boosters fired two seconds later. The third booster shuts down 5 minutes and 36 minutes after launch, and the first and second stages separate six seconds later. The main engine, a single RL10C-21 engine producing 24,750 pounds of thrust, kicks in at 5 minutes 55 seconds into flight, and the payload is offloaded approximately 6 minutes 37 seconds after launch.

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The purpose of the launch was to deliver NROL-68, a national security classified payload designed, built and operated by the NRO, into space.

“When the United States needs eyes and ears in critical places where no human can reach whether through the roughest terrain or through the most hostile territory, it turns to the NRO,” ULA wrote. “The NRO is the intelligence community agency responsible for the development, acquisition, launch and operation of America’s reconnaissance satellites, as well as the management of related data processing facilities in support of national security.”

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