A 235-foot-tall rocket that's more than twice the height of the Granada Theatre is scheduled to take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at around 10:50 a.m. Wednesday and deliver what analysts say is a massive spy satellite into low orbit.
The Delta IV-Heavy rocket, the biggest in the country, was built by privately held United Launch Alliance in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force. According to Vandenberg officials, the rocket will deploy a “national security payload for the NRO [National Reconnaissance Office],” but authorities have not elaborated on what the payload is.
This will be the second Delta IV-Heavy launch from Vandenberg after one took off from the Santa Barbara County base in January 2011. For three years leading up to that mission, the Air Force spent $100 million prepping the launch pad to accommodate such a large space vehicle.
When the Delta's three hydrogen-fueled engines fire up, they'll deliver 17 million horsepower and be viewable from as far as 50 miles away. In 2011, Lompoc residents reported a sizable sound wave hitting the town as the rocket powered overheard. This year, military officials are closing San Miguelito Canyon and Jalama Beach County Park as a precaution.
“We are excited to showcase this national capability for heavy lift on the Western Range in support of the NRO,” said Col. Keith Balts, the base's launch decision authority. “This is what makes Vandenberg unique because we provide the full spectrum of space lift capabilities from smaller launch vehicles up to and including the Delta IV-Heavy.”
To watch a live webcast of the launch, visit this site.