Image: Atlas 5 rocket
United Launch Alliance
An Atlas 5 rocket blasts off carrying the classified NROL-41 satellite on Sept. 20, 2010 at 9:03 p.m. PDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
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updated 9/21/2010 12:51:27 PM ET 2010-09-21T16:51:27

A new spy satellite launched into space late Monday on the latest classified mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, but not before a private car caused delays because it was parked in the wrong spot.

The classified satellite NROL-41 blasted off at 9:03:30 PDT (0403:30 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket managed by the United Launch Alliance carried the satellite into space.

The satellite's launch was delayed about a half hour due to the pesky car, which was parked at Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex 8 an area that was supposed to be clear of vehicles. The NROL-41 satellite soared spaceward from the nearby Space Launch Complex 3E.

Flight controllers wanted to be sure it wasn't a range safety concern, launch officials said. They later decided it was no concern for the launch.

Aside from the delay, the launch went smoothly despite thick fog earlier in the day and some cloudy weather. The 193-foot (59-meter) Atlas 5 rocket lit up the night over California as it headed for orbit.

"This Atlas launch is the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work on the part of all the men and women of the 30th Space Wing and our mission partners," said Air Force Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, in a post-launch statement. "We're all extremely proud of everyone's efforts."

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The rocket carried a "national security payload," Air Force officials said in the statement.

It is the 27th satellite launched for the National Reconnaissance Office since 1996, and "all mission descriptions are classified," United Launch Alliance officials said.

The satellite's launch time was also slightly adjusted early in the countdown to avoid the chance of NROL-41 flying too close to another object in space once it arrived in orbit.

About three minutes and 45 seconds after launch, the satellite's protective fairing separated from its rocket and the mission went into a media blackout at the request of the National Reconnaissance Office.

The gleaming white Atlas 5 rocket that launched Monday was the fourth to carry a National Reconnaissance Office and the 604th overall Atlas mission in U.S. history.

"We've had an excellent liftoff," said Don Spencer, launch commentator for the United Launch Alliance a joint venture by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. "The vehicle is functioning as we expected."

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