After two delays, an Atlas V rocket roared to life at Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County late Saturday en route to delivering clandestine cargo for the nation’s spy satellite agency.
Clear skies provided the perfect backdrop for spectators to follow the rocket’s flight for several minutes. Groups of people with their eyes on the sky were clustered at various locations around the Central Coast.
The rocket carried a National Reconnaissance Office payload for a mission dubbed NROL-42, but the exact duties of the new spacecraft remain top secret.
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Earlier this month, the rocket launch was delayed a week by Hurricane Irma, which was hammering Florida, and it was delayed two more days by a faulty battery.
For ULA, NRO and the 4th Space Launch Squadron, this marked the second Atlas V rocket launch of 2017 from Vandenberg, following another on March 1. And Saturday night’s launch marked ULA’s 25th mission for the spy satellite agency since 2002.
That booster will carry the next 10 Iridium satellites into orbit, boosting the number to 30 for efforts to build a second-generation constellation of craft to enable communications across the globe.
Those satellites have already arrived at Vandenberg, where they are being prepped for launch.