The nation’s largest rocket is ready to blast off today from Vandenberg Air Force Base north of Santa Barbara, Calif., carrying a massive, top-secret spy satellite for the federal government.
The 235-foot Delta IV Heavy rocket will lift off from the base’s Space Launch Complex 6, leaving a thick white plume over the Pacific.
The rocket, the tallest ever to be launched from the base, is set to place a classified spacecraft into polar orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, the covert umbrella agency that operates spy satellites. Air Force security and local police have closed nearby locations as a precaution.
Although little is publicly known about what exactly the rocket will be carrying into space, analysts say it is probably a high-powered spy satellite capable of snapping pictures detailed enough to distinguish the make and model of an automobile hundreds of miles below.
This is the second time that a Delta IV Heavy will be launched from Vandenberg. The first time, in January 2011, a sound wave as loud as a freight train swept over nearby Lompoc, a town of about 43,000.
Some people reported hearing the rocket’s roar as far away as 50 miles.
The rocket was built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. It is capable of lifting payloads of up to 24 tons into low Earth orbit.