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Spy Satellite Launches From Vandenberg AFB

April 15, 2011

An Atlas V rocket successfully launched yesterday from Vandenberg AFB, the Associated Press reports.

The successful flight was the twenty-fifth for the Atlas V which is built and launched by United Launch Alliance, a private rocket venture owned by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company, AP reports.

The original launch date was scheduled for Tuesday, however issues with the rocket’s avionics delayed the launch until yesterday.

The rocket, with up to 1-million combined pounds of thrust available, was carrying NROL-34, a classified payload from the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees the nation’s constellation of spy satellites.

No details about the payload or its mission were released but experts believe it to be the first in a new generation of radar imaging spacecraft developed as part of the controversial Future Imagery Architecture program, according to NASA.

By analyzing the flight path, the satellite entered a retrograde low Earth orbit at an inclination mirroring the prograde orbits of Lacrosse radar imaging satellites.

This launch of NROL-34 was the eighth NRO spacecraft to be launched in the last seven months. Six major satellites and two CubeSats have been launched for the National Reconnaissance Office in similar fashion since September 2010.

Image Courtesy NASASpaceflight.com

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