United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 NROL-55

A mission logo covers

the 14-foot-diameter nose cone containing a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload. Vandenberg Air Force Base will launch the payload aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas-Centaur rocket fromSpace Launch Complex 3-East pad.

Contributed photo by United Launch Alliance

An Atlas V rocket is slated to blast off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Thursday morning, though only some of the rocket’s payload has been revealed.

The Atlas V 401, built by United Launch Alliance, is slated to take off from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-3 at some point between 5 and 9 a.m. Among its passengers will be a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) as part of its NROL-55 mission.

Col. J. Christopher Moss, VAFB’s 30th Space Wing commander, will be the launch decision authority.

"We are excited and ready to take on our first Atlas launch of 2015," Moss said. "Our team and mission partners have put a lot of hard work into preparing for this important mission for our nation."

While the NRO’s part of the payload is kept under wraps — it only has been confirmed that it is in support of national defense — some of the rocket’s cargo has been revealed.

The rocket will carry 13 CubeSats, or mini-satellites. Nine of them are sponsored by the NRO and four are sponsored by NASA, according to ULA. The satellites are used for a range of activity, including communications and tracking technology.

The NROL-55 mission will be the 58th Atlas V mission since the vehicle’s inaugural launch in 2002, according to ULA. The mission is ULA’s 10th this year and 101st since the company was founded in December 2006.

The most recent Atlas V launch from VAFB took place Dec. 12, 2014. That mission also delivered a payload for the NRO.

The 4th Space Launch Squadron at VAFB is in charge of mission assurance and safety for Thursday’s launch.

“A launch like this takes teamwork and dedication," said Lt. Col. Eric Zarybnisky, 4th SLS commander. "Our mission assurance technicians and engineers have worked hand-in-hand with United Launch Alliance going over critical procedures and tasks to ensure this launch is a safe and successful one."

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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