A file photo of a Delta-IV Heavy launch (US Air Force photo)

A file photo of a Delta IV Heavy launch (US Air Force photo)

A Delta IV Heavy, the largest of the Delta-class rockets, capable of carrying the heaviest of loads into orbit, lifted off Friday at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Inside, it carried a secret spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.

The NRO has not said much about the rocket launch or its classified payload, but the intelligence agency has been engaged in a series of similar launches lately that suggest the NRO has initiated an advanced new program or is upping its efforts. The NRO is tasked with operating American spy satellites an analyzing aerial and satellite imagery from multiple intelligence and military agencies.

The NRO recently wrapped up a promised uptick in satellite launches. At the National Space Symposium in 2010, NRO director General Bruce Carlson, USAF (Ret.) said the agency would be aggressively launching satellites until the end of 2011.

“Because of the classified nature of this business, I can’t tell you what all those launches are. But we have several of them and probably the most aggressive launch schedule that this organization has undertaken in the last twenty-five years,” Carlson said. “There are a number of very large and very critical reconnaissance satellites that will go into orbit in the next year to a year and a half. We simply have to get those off and get them off on time.”

But if Friday’s clandestine satellite launch was part of this plan, it certainly was not launched on time.

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The launch was delayed a day because of Tropical Storm Debby, and it was delayed for several hours again Friday because of technical glitches.

This was NRO’s second launch in two weeks. An Atlas V rocket carrying another spy satellite was launched June 20.