Late this Thursday evening, an Atlas V rocket is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc. Its undisclosed payload belongs to the National Reconnaissance Office, one of the country’s Big Five intelligence agencies. The 4th Space Launch squadron of the 30th Space Wing will oversee the operation, commanded by Col. Keith Balts.
This week’s will be the tenth rocket launch from Vandenberg and the first Atlas V this year. The rocket was built by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture started in 2006 by the Boeing Company and the Lockheed Martin Corporation and headquartered in Denver, CO.
Jessica Rye, ULA’s senior communications manager, said by phone that three of their rockets launched from Vandenberg in 2013. This kind of rocket is an “evolved expendable launch vehicle,” or EELV, so it’s designed to be used only once.
According to its website, NRO designs, builds, launches, and maintains intelligence satellites that provide the United States with electronic “eyes and ears in critical places where no human can reach.” NRO launched four missions in 2012, two of them from Vandenberg. But like its payload, the mission’s cost is a secret. Rye declined to discuss it, calling the figure “proprietary information” and therefore unavailable to the public.
The National Weather Service forecasts a mostly clear sky with winds from 5 to 15 mph. With an expected temperature of about 30 F, there’s also the possibility of frost forming after 10 p.m. The time of the launch is scheduled a little after 11 p.m.