Spy satellite launch is West Coast’s biggest ever

The second of two massive spy satellite launches took place yesterday from the Vandenburg Air Force Base in California, carrying a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

At 235 feet high, it’s the largest rocket ever to launch from the West Coast, but the location will allow the satellite to be placed in a polar orbit. The last such launch took place at Cape Canaveral late last year.

The United launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy rocket features a center common booster core with two strap-on common booster cores. Each common booster core produces 660,000 pounds of thrust.

“Most important is the critical NRO payload launched today, which will significantly enhance the effectiveness and safety of the brave men and women defending our nation every day,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president for mission operations.

“Today’s successful launch represents the culmination of five years’ hard work and exceptional skill in modifying the launch system to establish the west cpast heavy lift capability for the nation and to integrate this important mission.”

The payload, believed to be a high-resolution imaging spy satellite, is contained in a unit 16.7 feet across.

ULA’s next launch will be the Atlas V Orbital Test Vehicle-2, for the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. It’s scheduled to take place at Cape Canaveral on March 4.