A Delta 4-Heavy rocket lifts off Monday from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Credit: National Reconnaissance Office
A United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket climbed into orbit Monday from a military base northwest of Los Angeles, delivering to space a classified U.S. government spy satellite as large as a school bus and leaving just three Delta rockets left to fly before retirement.
The top secret cargo for the National Reconnaissance Office, owner of the U.S. government’s spy satellites, rocketed off a hillside launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base around 140 miles (225 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles.
The 233-foot-tall (71-meter) Delta 4-Heavy rocket — one of the most powerful launchers in the world — ignited its three hydrogen-fueled Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A engines in a staggered sequence seconds before liftoff at 1:47 p.m. PDT (4:47 p.m. EDT; 2047 GMT).
After a hydrogen fireball erupted around the base of the rocket — a tell-tale signature of all Delta 4 launches — the triple-body launcher ascended from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg, a facility originally constructed to support flights of military astronauts and NASA space shuttles.
Those plans never materialized, and the Delta 4 program moved into the ...