Largest-Ever Rocket, With Secret Payload, Launched On West Coast

No info on satellite released

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE (CBSLosAngeles/AP) — The largest rocket ever launched from the West Coast blasted off Thursday with a classified defense satellite on board.

The 235-foot-tall, 53-foot wide — about 1 and 1/2 times the size of the Statue of Liberty — Delta IV Heavy Launch Vehicle lifted off at 1:10 p.m. carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.

The booster rose into the sky over California’s central coast and arced over the Pacific Ocean, a spectacle visible over a wide area.

rocket crowd Largest Ever Rocket, With Secret Payload, Launched On West Coast

A crowd gathers outside Vandenberg Air Force Base to watch Thursday's launch of a Delta IV Heavy Launch Vehicle. (credit: Matt Hartman/Shorealone Films)

Initial reports from launch control indicated the flight was going well.

“It’s pretty amazing, you hear the ground move, it’s pretty fun to see,” said Steve Mercieca of Torrance. “And then to see the rockets go up, it’s cool to see up close with your own eyes as opposed to on TV.”

The launch was pushed back two minutes to avoid an object in space that could have been in the path of the rocket, said Michael J. Rein, spokesman for United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of rocket builders Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co.

“You know they’re all unique, every launch is different. This one had its own characteristics. The contrail backlit against the sun, that was priceless, you’re not gonna see that again,” said Chris Chavez of the United Launch Alliance.

No payload details were released. The NRO operates satellites that provide information to the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense.

This was the fifth launch of a Delta IV but the first from the West Coast. The other four launches were at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Capable of generating nearly 2 million pounds of thrust, the liquid-fuel rocket has a central core booster and two strap-on boosters that make the assembly 50 feet wide. An upper second stage takes over when the first stage is exhausted.

Preparing for the launch took three years and $100 million in infrastructure upgrades at Vandenberg, 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The launch director, Lt. Col. Brady Hauboldt, said in a statement before the liftoff that the launch would mark a milestone by restoring heavy lift capability in the nation’s western range.

The last heavy lift Titan IV-B was launched at Vandenberg in 2005.

In its past, the launch complex was once configured for West Coast space shuttle launches, which were canceled after the 1986 Challenger disaster, and the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, which was canceled in 1969. It was last used in 2006.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • P.Wharton

    Mach One is 761.2 MPH, not 17,500 MPH

    • Steve Daniel Sr.

      What do you expect from a bubble-headed west coast journalist? After all, she is a product of the California school system. Welcome to the land of fruits, flakes, and nuts. Please check your brain, your integrity, and your wallet at the door.

    • Pat

      Whoa…..Nerds arguing….hahahaha

      • Robea

        But at least they are not killing each other over girl-friends or politics.

    • RichC

      Mach varies with temperature and is not a constant down to a decimal point. If you want to make fun of someone’s goof, don’t make one yourself.

      • Jordan

        This was a silly retort RichC. All constants are given in standard value. In this case it includes the decimal point. The equation of 340.29 m/s says nothing about temperature.

      • Roy Rogers

        Mach one does not vary 16, 728 MPH. If you don’t want to make fun of someone’s goof, don’t become a self-righteous goof yourself.

        761.2 MPH is the recognized Mach One baseline.

        17, 500 MPH in 80 seconds is an ignorant statement.

      • Tomas

        In Space, No One Can Hear You Argue.

      • Erik

        Jordan, you’re wrong too. It does vary with temperature, but Roy is also more correct than Rich. It will NEVER be 17,500 mph, and that was a blatantly ignorant statement. At most the speed of sound will change by a MAX of around 100 mph in anything we would encounter in the Earth’s atmosphere. And that is an overestimate.

        Now sound travels faster in other mediums like water, but it STILL would never reach 17,500 mph in that.

      • RichC

        Sorry, too many years correctly mach for temperature to get my true speed. There may be a baseline, but it does vary with temp and to say other wise is to generalize.

      • RichC

        By the way Rich was not suggesting it was 17,500 mph or anything like that. That was what the announcer said that got this thread going.

      • Juan Oskar

        That wasn’t a ‘goof’, it was a “GOOF!!!”

      • bumblefoot2004

        Mach 1 does not vary from 742mph to 17,500mph, RichC.

      • p3orion

        To sum up, I think we can all agree about three undeniable facts:
        1) Mach (the speed of sound) varies with a number of variables, but when the equations are all done, pretty much the only one remaining is temperature.
        2) 761.2 mph is the speed of sound for a “standard atmosphere” (sea level and 15 degrees C.)
        3) The reporter has no friggin’ idea what she’s talking about, and should be limited to covering ribbon cuttings at minimalls.

    • Allen

      I guess we can derive a correction value for any actual facts based on these reports….I wonder how the 23:1 error factor can be applied to such things as the unemployment rate or other mathemagical aspects of Obamunism?

    • Tony

      The 17,500 miles per hour speed she was fed is the approximate speed necessary to achieve orbit.

  • Faz

    Geez, kinda looks like that “jet contrail” that mysteriously appeared in the sky a month or so ago in “perfect conditions.” Considering 35 miles out at sea was the starting point of the arc, yeah, it was perfect alright… Hu Jintao, hmmm?

  • Jordan Cobb

    Seventeen thousand MPH miles per hour is mach 1? Ummm check your facts lady. It’s more like 700.

    • donfitness

      Wow! That means the SR71 must go 60,000 MPH !!

  • joebobe

    Ms. Johnson has confused the speed of sound with the speed necessary to reach earth orbit.

    • Roy Rogers

      There is no sound in space.

      There is a lot of space between Ms. Johnson’s ears.

    • bumblefoot2004

      Yes, 17,500 mph is Earth’s escape velocity, to put it another way.

      • p3orion

        At the risk of starting another geekapalooza, you’re wrong, Bumble. At Vandenberg’s latitude, 17,500 is the speed that must be reached to achieve orbit (at least the orbit they needed for this satellite.)

        Escape velocity is the higher speed which must be achieved to escape Earth’s gravity altogether, that is, to go beyond an orbit. That’s more in the area of 25,000 mph.

  • Guerrero

    Not really “secret” payload once you say it’s a defense dept satellite…if it were secret, you wouldn’t have a story would you? “News” these days…

  • August

    Another super-secret spy camera to watch every move American Citizens make….

    • Mike

      Did you take a stupid pill this morning? Read EO 12333.

  • Mach Cleary

    Don’t Mach her.

    • Roy Rogers

      You won’t get any booze for that one!

    • Andy


  • Dave

    Besides the speed error – she should know the “smoke” she saw is actually steam created when massive amounts of water are dumped on the launch pad to coll it!

  • Bob

    The Apollo moon rockets were larger – much larger. This may have been the largest ever launched from the west coast, but it’s still small potatos by comparision.

    • Tully

      My first thought exactly. Saturn V was over a hundred feet taller and about four times as heavy.

  • Aunt Bee

    “The last official act of any government is to loot the treasury.” ~ George Washington

  • Roy Rogers

    Amy Johnson goes on to correct her report, “At first it appeared to be a rocket, but subsequent reports confirmed this was merely Delta airlines flight #1766 in-bound from Hawaii.”

    President Hu Jintao was unavailable to comment although he was seen to smile to himself…

  • donfitness

    Rutan and Branson could’ve done it with a much smaller rocket.

  • Joe

    A colossal waste of tax payer money.

    • Caveman

      The human race is so petty.. we don’t even have a world goal. Now if a big @$$ meteor was heading our way, you better believe everyone would put their idiotic political, religious, and personal opinions to the side, and think about how to survive total devastation… it’s so rediculous what we’ve become as a species.. I’m dissappointed to say the least. Defense satellite.. from who? North Korea? Whatever man… There are no true leaders on this planet yet.

      • Jondolar

        Caveman… I really wonder whether your meteor senario is how things would really go down – putting aside their idiotic political, religious, and personal opinions to the side. Personally, I have even less faith that, especially in the more urban centers where people live like humongous ant colonies, people would come together. More so, my speculation is that if it was learned of the meteor coming they’d panic, freak out and chaos would reign with most of them plundering to get what they could while they still had time. But then, I believe our govt. would not let the information out simply because of this possibility.

  • Jason

    Look up and smile…someone is watching !

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  • Tully

    Largest rocket EVER? Someone’s forgetting the Saturn V ….

    • Mad Technologist

      The title is misleading use of poor grammar. It indicates it’s the largest rocket ever launched from the west coast, but misuse of commas makes it seem like a factual error, instead.

      CBS seems to be full of fails, lately.

      Next, they’ll be saying the Tesla roadster requires 1.21 Gigawatts to reach 88mph, a new land speed record.

  • Sam Sindaha

    Let me guess what the secret payload might be, hmmm I know its another supper ex ray spy camera that will see us all naked for home land security.

  • Todd

    No..Rutan and Branson could NOT have done this with a smaller rocket. The Delta IV Heavy Lift can lift satellites weighing up to 50,000 lbs into orbit.

    This rocket likely carried a KH-12 imaging satellite as a part of America’s earth surveillance capabilities.

    Launches are done from Vandenburg AFB so that the satellite can achieve lunar earth orbit, so it is able to be maneuvered to observe any place on earth on short notice.

    • ray

      What? Lunar earth orbit? You mean polar orbit.

      • bobble

        well, you wanna get totally anal about it, they call it a “high-inclination orbit” now. Not exactly “polar” (90 degrees) (which would waste a lot of time over territory that doesn’t matter, like Antarctica and the North polar ice cap). . . but more like between 80-88 degrees of inclination.

        In any case, Vandenberg’s the one place where they can launch out over open water, and shoot due south, without flying over populated areas. Can’t do that from Cape Canaveral. (you’d fly over Miami, so there’s a risk of debris falling on populated areas).

        But generally, flights out of Vandenberg aren’t aimed at a normal west-to-east, low-inclination orbit. That would fly over most of the US mainland, and a launch mishap would pose a hazard to folks on the ground.

  • Steve Y

    Yay, more global warming pollution. Why don’t they launch these from some place like Iowa or Nebraska, where they don’t really care about their environment.

    • Stephen S.

      This made me chuckle; you’re complaining about GLOBAL warming pollution and then suggest that they launch from Iowa or Nebraska. Why launch from there, are they not part of the globe, or does your globe simply not extend that far?

    • bobble

      dude, this fuel is hydrogen and oxygen – which burns and produces water as exhaust. No global warming from that.

      Try cracking open a book.

      • Robea

        Oh but it did make the planet a little bitty-bit hotter.

      • p3orion

        Actually, water vapor is orders of magnitude more of a “global warming” contributor than carbon dioxide. It has a much larger heat capacity, and there’s MUCH more of it. but of course, the left doesn’t think they can try to tax water vapor… yet.

  • Hank Warren

    No $ for NASA but plenty of $ to support endless Wars for Israel, it all started nearly a decade ago under a false flag attack.
    9/11 and Israel, here:

    • SFTech

      Yes we should give all our money to the Palistinians cause they’re such a productive people.

      They have turned the desert into farm land, invented many useful things, won many nobel peace prizes, allowfree speech. Oops did I say Palis, I meant Israelis. Maybe we should support them.

      Get your anti isreal/anti us /anti whatever facts right

    • p3orion

      Time to take your meds Hank, and adjust the tinfoil in your hat.

      • Pat


        Ridicule is a pathetic argument. Hank is right.

        Living on the upper crust of Cable TV news without doing any research will leave you blind to reality. Ask yourself a tough Q or 2. Ask yourself who is starting these never ending wars? Ask why the 911 commission report looks like Swiss cheese b/c it has so many holes of neglect and cover-up? Ask why Israel HAS nukes and where they come from? Ask how many military bases your indebted nation now has worldwide? Ask how many nations our military now occupies? Remember, we are in debt up to our ears and the private banking cartel aka Federal Reserve (which is not part of the Federal government) just printed another ungodly amount of money to flood our economy with, diluting again the value of the money we now have. Ask yourself how those international bankers just effectively taxed you and you never even voted?

        Just ask some tough questions, find an answer outside of the government controlled media, and stop ridiculing people who raise valid alarms.

  • zombierocket

    Amy Amy Amy…. please…

  • Brad Skidmore

    National Security …. Is it worth being a slave?

  • John Gargano

    The ramark about the speed was way, way off. So now tht you know about it, EDIT IT OUT!

  • james r.

    Delta-IV Heavy LV’s are primarily employed for insertion of orbital platforms not! a single satellite. Everyones been ‘scared!’ of the big bad rising dragon,however the men at Vandenberg,and Edwards AFB are not sh**ting in their pants!, those boys are thinking,and planning for america’s future safety,to bad! Wall Street, & all them corporations lining-up to make a dollar in china, forgot!

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