? ? The largest rocket in America launched a spy satellite Wednesday from California. Taking off from Vandenburg Air Force Base, the Delta IVHeavy rocket lifted off just after 2pm Wednesday afternoon. The highly secretive payload, known as NROL-65, is believed to be the most advanced spy satellite ever launched. It is not known what intelligence will be gathered by the latest addition to the US spy network.
`Today's launch is dedicated to the men and women who serve for our nation's freedom,' said a commentator early in the launch. The giant rocket is built by ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, according to the contractor's site. It stands 235-feet-tall and generates two million pounds of thrust, according to ULA. The largest and by far most powerful rocket in America, it was first built in 2004, said the contractor in a statement. The massive hydrogen-fueled engines provided 17million horsepower each and took less than three minutes to consume half their weight in fuel, according to news reports.
Delta rockets have made over 360 flights, with the Delta IV's making 24. Eight of those flights have been for the National Reconnaissance Office, the contractor noted. The NRO is responsible for building and operating the US' spy satellites.
NROL-65 is believed to be a $1billion `high-powered spy satellite capable of snapping pictures detailed enough to distinguish the make and model of an automobile hundreds of miles below,' according to a report. Big as it may be, the Delta IV is about to lose king of the hill status to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA)'s Space Launch System designed to send the Orion spacecraft towards asteroids and to Mars. SLS will come in at 321 feet tall, eventually evolving into a 3845-foot-tall beast capable of taking 130 metric tons into space. It is expected to come on line in 2017. Even sooner is the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, according to another report. That rocket will fly next year with a thrust capacity of 4million pounds. ? ?