VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The largest rocket ever launched from the West Coast blasted off Thursday with a classified defense satellite on board.
The 235-foot-tall (71-meter-tall) Delta 4 Heavy Launch Vehicle lifted off at 1:10 p.m. PT (4:10 p.m. ET) carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
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The booster rose into the sky over California's central coast and arced over the Pacific Ocean, creating a spectacle visible over a wide area.
United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of rocket builders Lockheed Martin and Boeing, said in a statement that the launch was a success.
The launch was pushed back two minutes to avoid an object in space that could have been in the path of the rocket, said Michael J. Rein, a ULA spokesman.
No payload details were released. The NRO operates satellites that provide information to the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense.
This was the fifth launch of a Delta IV but the first from the West Coast. The other four launches were at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Capable of generating nearly 2 million pounds of thrust, the liquid-fuel rocket has a central core booster and two strap-on boosters that make the assembly 50 feet (15 meters) wide. An upper second stage takes over when the first stage is exhausted.
Preparing for the launch took three years and $100 million in infrastructure upgrades at Vandenberg, 130 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles.
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 last heavy-lift Titan IV-B was launched at Vandenberg in 2005.
The launch complex was once configured for West Coast space shuttle launches, which were canceled after the 1986 Challenger disaster; and the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, which was canceled in 1969. It was last used in 2006.
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