Watch a Behemoth Blast Off

Liftoff Video of Largest Rocket Launched from West Coast

Brandi Roberge (striped shirt) and Marco Dominguez watch, from Leadbetter Beach, the Delta IV rocket that took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Jan. 20, 2011
Paul Wellman

[UPDATE, 1:50 p.m.]: This afternoon’s launch of the Delta IV Heavy rocket was a success, said a spokesperson with Vandenberg Air Force Base. The rocket – around 23 stories tall – produced 2 million pounds of thrust as it hurled into space and deployed a “national security payload” 100 nautical miles above the earth. The actual launch time was pushed back slightly to 1:10 p.m. so that the Delta IV wouldn’t collide with other, unspecified objects in space.

Delta IV takes off from Vandenberg
Joe Davila

[ORIGINAL REPORT]: At 1:08 p.m. today, Vandenberg Air Force Base will launch a 235 foot tall rocket into space that’ll deliver a mysterious “national security payload” into low orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. If the good weather holds and all goes according to plan, the rocket – a Delta IV Heavy, which stands about as tall as two Granada Theaters stacked on top of each other – will be the largest ever launched from the West Coast. A live broadcast of the liftoff can be viewed here, and is provided by the United Launch Alliance, the private corporation that built the Delta IV.

Because of the classified payload, the video will last only about 6 minutes and 30 seconds and then cut out before what experts speculate is an imaging satellite separates from the rocket. The broadcast will begin at 12:43 p.m. For those who wish to see the show themselves, Vandenberg officials recommend heading anywhere along the coastline north of Santa Barbara, to Surf Beach, or to a nearby viewing spot, accessible by driving west past the base’s Highway 1 main gate along Lompoc-Casmalia Road to Corral Road and then turning onto Skyscreen Road. Jalama Beach County Park will be closed for safety reasons.

Delta IV Heavy launch
Paul Wellman

Vandenberg, said officials, spent the last three years and around $100 million dollars prepping the launch pad – which is shielded from public view – to accommodate the Delta IV Heavy. It’ll be the fifth launch in the program’s history, with all others taking place at Cape Canaveral, Florida. “This launch marks a significant milestone in our nation’s space capability” said launch director Lt. Col. Brady Hauboldt. “We’ve really restored a national capability for heavy lift on the Western Range, something we have not had since the last of the Titan IV-Bs flew out of Vandenberg. This extends our ability to cost effectively deliver payloads of all sizes and compliments.”


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