Night Launch Lights Up Sky Off California Coast

The Atlas V rocket carried a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency in charge of the nation's intelligence-gathering satellites

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Friday, Dec 6, 2013  |  Updated 2:34 PM PDT
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An Atlas V rocket launches into the night sky Thursday Dec. 5, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

National Launch Alliance

An Atlas V rocket launches into the night sky Thursday Dec. 5, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

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Raw Video: Country's Tallest Rocket Blasts Off

A Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a defense satellite blasted into space Wednesday Aug. 28, 2013 from the California coast.

Vandenberg Rocket Launch Biggest of Its Kind

Spectators came from across the state on Wednesday to catch a glimpse of a rocket launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Delta IV Heavy rocket, with a top secret spy satellite on board, was the tallest of its kind to ever launch from the base. Conan Nolan reports from Vandenberg Air Force Base for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Aug. 28, 2013.
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A rocket carrying a payload for the U.S. government illuminated the night sky off the coast of Southern California when it launched late Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Watch: August Launch of Nation's Tallest Rocket | June 2013: Rocket Dropped From Aircraft

The 19-story tall Atlas V rocket roared from the launch pad northwest of Santa Barbara at about 11:15 p.m. -- a soaring candle that became a distant speck of light as it entered low-Earth orbit. The rocket carried a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, in charge of the nation's system of intelligence-gathering satellites.

The agency has not released details about the payload.

Thursday's launch was the second time an Atlas 5 rocket has lifted off from the West Coast this year. Overall, there have been 77 Atlas V launches from Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Earlier this year, the tallest launch vehicle in the nation took off from Vandeberg AFB carrying a top-secret defense satellite into space. That launch marked the second time a towering and powerful Delta IV Heavy rocket took off from the West Coast.

The launch was the 11th of 2013 at Vandenberg AFB, according to Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander.

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