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Rocket launch set for today

Spy satellite to be put in polar orbit

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.


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