- U.S. cuts off broadcast three minutes after lift-off
- Secret satellite payload thought to be hi-tech replacement for current radar satellites
- National Reconnaissance Office will not reveal details of new satellite
- Experts think new ‘eye in the sky’ can see through clouds and at night
By Rob Waugh
PUBLISHED: 03:03 EST, 4 April 2012 | UPDATED: 04:12 EST, 4 April 2012
A rocket carrying a top-secret payload blasted off from the California coast yesterday.
The Delta IV rocket lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 130 miles north west of Los Angeles.
The rocket contained some form of spy technology – thought to be a hi-tech replacement for America’s ageing fleet of radar satellites.
It’s not clear what capabilities the new generation might be armed with.
Observers think that the ‘new generation’ spy satellites would be capable of high-resolution scans even through cloud cover and at night.
Since the launch involved a classified cargo for the National Reconnaissance Office, no details were immediately available about whether it was boosted to its intended orbit.
The reconnaissance office, which oversees the nation’s constellation of spy satellites, has kept mum about the purpose of the mission and directed United Launch Alliance to cut off the live broadcast three minutes after lift-off.
‘We’ve just seen the successful lift-off’ , launch commentator Don Spencer said in a webcast.
Intelligence analysts think the rocket carried a radar imaging satellite capable of seeing at night and through bad weather.
In recent years, the United States has worked to phase out its fleet of older, heavier radar reconnaissance satellites with smaller but equally capable ones, said Charles Vick, a space policy analyst with the Globalsecurity.org think tank.
People watch as a West Coast Delta 4 rocket is launched in a spacecraft-deployment flight for the government agency that operates the nation’s spy satellites
Such radar satellites would be able to zero in on countries of interest and see details that typical Earth satellites cannot, experts said.
The launch involved reconfiguring the rocket to add on two strap-on boosters to provide more thrust. The protective nose cone enclosing the payload also had to be made larger.
The U.S. spy satellite agency blacked out the broadcast after three minutes
Its exact ‘classified’ cargo has not yet been revealed, with the National Reconnaissance Office keeping mum about the purpose of the mission
No information was available about whether the satellite had reached its orbit successfully after the spy-satellite agency blacked out the broadcast
iA top secret rocket has blasted off from the Californian coast – which experts believe was carrying hi-tech spy satellites that can see at night and through bad weather
The National Reconnaissance Agency has has launched several satellites using Delta IVs in the past two years, including four launches at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Capable of generating nearly two million pounds of thrust, the liquid-fuel rocket has a central core booster and two strap-on boosters that make the assembly 50ft wide.
An upper second stage takes over when the first stage is exhausted.
Smoke is seen as a West Coast Delta 4 rocket is launched with a NROL-25 payload