January 21, 2011

Largest Rocket In West Coast History Launched

The largest rocket ever to launch from the West Coast of the US blasted off from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Thursday, officials at the military complex have announced.

The 235-foot tall, United Launch Alliance (ULA) constructed Delta IV Heavy Launch Vehicle blasted off at 1:10 pm PST from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg, and was carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), officials from the military said following the launch.

"The teamwork between the 30th Space Wing, the National Reconnaissance Office, United Launch Alliance and numerous other agencies was outstanding for our first-ever Delta IV HLV from Vandenberg Air Force Base," Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing Vice Commander and Launch Decision Authority, said in a statement.

"I'm very proud to be part of the team who worked so hard to make this mission a success," he added.

While no official payload information was released, Reuters, citing a Los Angeles Times report, said that analysts confirms that the payload was "a spy satellite, capable of snapping pictures detailed enough to distinguish the model of a car hundreds of miles below."

Previously, the Delta IV had only launched from Florida, according to Jonathan Amos of BBC News, and the launch pad at the California facility needed to undergo $100 million worth of upgrades in order for Thursday's launch to take place.

Those upgrades, according to the Associated Press (AP), took three-years to complete.

"The launch director, Lt. Col. Brady Hauboldt, said in a statement before the liftoff that the launch would mark a milestone by restoring heavy lift capability in the nation's western range," the AP added. "The last heavy lift Titan IV-B was launched at Vandenberg in 2005."

It was the fifth flight in the vehicle's history, Amos said, and the second in a two month span.

"The vehicle is reserved for military and intelligence use, although there has long been discussion about modifying it for a role in human spaceflight," the BBC News reporter added.


Image Caption: The first West Coast Delta IV Heavy Launch Vehicle was launched from Space Launch Complex-6 here Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011, at 1:10 p.m. PST. The largest rocket ever to launch from the West Coast of the United States carried a national security payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)


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