WASHINGTON, August 28 (RIA Novosti) – A giant rocket more than 21 stories tall launched into space Wednesday from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, on a covert mission for the US government’s National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
Blastoff occurred at 2:03 p.m. EDT (1803 GMT) on Wednesday, and marks only the second time the Delta IV Heavy rocket has been launched from the base.
"There's nothing bigger that the United States launches – period – in any way, shape or form, and that is absolutely amazing," said Lt. Col. Jim Bodnar, commander of the 4th Space Launch Squadron at Vandenberg, in a press release.
The massive rocket is carrying “a massive, top-secret spy satellite” that analysts say “is probably a $1-billion high-powered spy satellite capable of snapping pictures detailed enough to distinguish the make and model of an automobile hundreds of miles below,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
“The mission of the payload being launched today is classified so we cannot provide additional details,” said an NRO spokeswoman in an email to RIA Novosti.
The launch used three main engines each powered with liquid hydrogen and oxygen, according to United Launch Alliance (ULA), which built the rocket.
It also utilized a new strategy designed to reduce the flames produced during liftoff by lighting one engine just two seconds before the other two, according to space news site Spaceflight Now.
ULA is a joint venture of aerospace firms Lockheed Martin and the Boeing Company.
Updated with information that the rocket has been launched