A Vandenberg Air Force Base launch Wednesday sent the world's largest rocket into space to carry out what analysts say is a U.S. federal government top-secret spy mission, dubbed NROL-65.
The Delta IV Heavy rocket blasted off from the Vandenberg base in California just north of Santa Barbara Wednesday morning at 11:03 a.m. PDT. Boasting three hydrogen-fueled engines — each roughly the size of a pickup truck — and 17 million horsepower, the rocket is the second Delta IV to be launched from Vandenberg, according to the Los Angeles Times.
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Analysts speculate that the NROL-65 mission, which is backed by the National Reconnaissance Office, will put into orbit a $1 billion spy satellite. The high-powered satellite is reportedly capable of taking pictures so detailed that researches will be able to distinguish the make and model of an automobile hundreds of miles below, the Times said.
"We are truly honored to deliver this critical asset to orbit,"
Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president of Atlas and Delta Programs, said in a press release. "The ULA Delta IV Heavy is currently the world's largest rocket, providing the nation with reliable, proven, heavy lift capability for our country's national security payloads from both the east and west coasts. I congratulate the combined NRO, Air Force, ULA, and supplier team on today's successful launch of the NROL-65 mission."
Vandenberg, a 98,000-acre base along the Pacific, has been the primary site for launching spy satellites since the beginning of the Cold War because of its ideal location for putting satellites into a north-to-south orbit. The facility recently spent $100 million on upgrades over the past three years.
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