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Top secret satellite set to be launched today from Vandenberg AFB

September 13, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan
  • United Launch Alliance's Atlas V at Space Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
United Launch Alliance's Atlas V at Space Complex 3 at Vandenberg… (Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau…)

A rocket standing 19 stories tall is ready to roar to life and boost a top-secret satellite into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

On Thursday at 2:39 p.m. PDT, United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket is set to launch a national security payload and cluster of miniature satellites.

There will be live launch coverage on United Launch Alliance's website, which will begin at 2:19 p.m.

The mission has been delayed six weeks because of a nagging glitch with equipment on the base northwest of Santa Barbara. But the glitch has been fixed, and the weather and rocket are "go" for launch.

"We are looking good from a launch vehicle prospective," Maj. Joseph Howerton,  Air Force squadron flight commander, said in a statement . "This is one of the cleanest launch vehicles we have seen for Atlas; we have not seen any major issues."

Little is known about the payload except that it belongs to the National Reconnaissance Office. The secretive federal agency is in charge of designing, building, launching and maintaining nation's spy satellites.

The launch will also deliver 11 smaller satellites, known as “CubeSats,” for the NRO and NASA.  The miniature satellites are built in cubic compartments They will study a wide range of things, including weather, space debris and will track maritime shipping containers.

The CubeSats were developed by a number of laboratories, government entities and universities. One of the CubeSats, called Aeneas, was built by USC’s Space Engineering Research Center. It has the ability to deploy a parabolic dish and track a point on the surface of the Earth. USC says it’s the first CubeSat with this tracking ability.

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