An Atlas V rocket lit up the early morning sky over Vandenberg Air Force Base on Thursday as it successfully blasted into orbit.
The rocket, an Atlas V 401, took off at 5:49 a.m. from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-3. With little fog, viewers on base and throughout the Lompoc Valley got a mostly clear look at the rocket as it pierced the pre-sunrise sky.
The rocket carried a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) as part of its NROL-55 mission.
It also took with it 13 CubeSats, or mini-satellites. Nine of them were sponsored by the NRO and four were sponsored by NASA, according to United Launch Alliance, which built the rocket. The satellites are used for a range of activity, including communications and tracking technology.
“This launch was a great achievement for Team Vandenberg, ULA, NRO and our launch partners,” said 30th Space Wing Commander Col. J. Christopher Moss, who was the launch decision authority. “Their outstanding professionalism and teamwork ensured a fantastic launch, and I am proud to work with this team of experts in support of national defense."
Thursday's launch came after two previous delays in the NROL-55 mission. It was initially scheduled to take off Aug. 27 but was twice left grounded due to poor weather conditions.
The NROL-55 mission was the 58th Atlas V mission since the vehicle’s inaugural launch in 2002, according to ULA. The mission was ULA’s 10th this year and 101st since the company was founded in December 2006.
Thursday mornings’s launch was the first time an Atlas V has blasted off from VAFB in nearly 10 months. The previous Atlas V rocket to take from the base did so Dec. 12, 2014. That mission also delivered a payload for the NRO.