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A powerful Delta 4 rocket roared to life and climbed away from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sunday evening on a high-priority mission to boost a National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite into orbit.

Under a cloudy sky, the hydrogen-fueled engines in the three common core boosters of the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 ignited with a rush of orange fire at 5:58 p.m. EST and quickly throttled up to nearly 2 million pounds of thrust.

Hold-down clamps then released and the huge rocket majestically climbed away from launch complex 37 atop a torrent of fiery exhaust. About 30 seconds later, it knifed into a deck of low clouds and disappeared from view.

Because the NROL-32 payload is classified, United Launch Alliance halted commentary about seven minutes after liftoff, just after the protective nose cone fairing separated and fell away. The vehicle was performing normally at that point, but no other updates were expected.

The payload is believed to be an electronic eavesdropping satellite with a huge collecting antenna. In a September address to the Air Force Association, NRO Director Bruce Carlson said the Delta 4 was carrying "the largest satellite in the world."

I'd love the see some of the images that thing takes, particularly the ones focused on the upper atmosphere, and the ones aimed away from Earth.  To read the rest of the article, click here.
Category: Science