Image: Atlas launch
An Atlas 2AS rocket lifts off early Tuesday from Vandenburg Air Force Base, Calif., on its way to releasing a national security payload into orbit.

An Atlas 2AS rocket carrying a spy satellite thundered into space before dawn Tuesday from this military base along the central California coast, Air Force officials reported.

The Satellite built by the National Reconnaissance Office successfully separated from the rocket 74 minutes after the 2:04 a.m. PT launch, according to a recorded message on the Vandenberg Air Force Base’s launch update line.

The successful liftoff marked the final West Coast launch of a current-generation Atlas rocket by International Launch Services, a consortium led by Lockheed Martin.

Military and Lockheed Martin officials will now begin refurbishing the launch complex to accommodate a newer generation of rockets called the Atlas 5. One more launch of an Atlas ILS is scheduled from Cape Canaveral, Fla., later this month.

Military officials released few details about the satellite, whose mission they said was national security.

A video of its launch showed the rocket appearing as a huge star as it headed through the clear but dark sky over the Pacific Ocean toward space.


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