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United States launch top-secret spy satellite

Published time: April 04, 2012 16:25
Edited time: April 04, 2012 20:25
A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lifts off (Reuters / Handout)

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lifts off (Reuters / Handout)

The United States has successfully launched a multi-million dollar rocket into the sky outside of Los Angeles, but details regarding the cargo of the craft are not being released, as the government refuses to comment fully on the classified mission.

A Delta IV rocket was launched out of the Vandenberg Air Force base in Western California on Tuesday as part of a mission made possible to support the National Reconnaissance Office, one of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies. The NRO regularly manages spy satellites and related spacecraft for the US government, and although the specifics of the latest mission are staying sealed, this week’s liftoff is expected to further the country’s surveillance capabilities from high above the Earth.

As the exact purpose of the latest launch remains a matter for high-profile officers only, intelligence analysts speaking with the Associated Press speculate that the rocket was fired off to release a spy satellite that will allow the government to see from a set of eyes in the sky that will more successfully be able to see at night and in bad weather using high-tech radar imagining. To the AP, unidentified experts say they believe the high-tech satellite will be able to zoom into countries of interest and provide a point of view for the intelligence community that is not obtainable by America’s otherwise advanced surveillance equipment.

Jim Sponnick, the vice president of the aerospace contractors and Delta IV maker United Launch Alliance, congratulates the NRO this week for the latest launch, which he only explains as being “critical for national security.” So secretive are the government’s exact intentions, however, that the US ordered the ULA to abort their live broadcast of the missile launch only three minutes after the countdown to liftoff reached zero.

"ULA is proud to have supported this mission and delivered critical capabilities to the men and women defending our freedom throughout the world,” Sponnick adds in a press release. While the federal government has not gone into the specifics of the program, the ULA says in their own statement that the mission has been designated as NROL-25 and “is in support of national defense.”

To the AP, space policy expert Charles Vick adds that the US has been phasing out a number of its more antiquated spy satellites in recent years and the latest Delta IV launch is among the first aimed at increasing the country’s capabilities in the realm of out-of-this-world surveillance. It is expected to not be the last, though. Over the next four months, the NRO plan to launch four additional but similar missions, all masked by the same amount of secrecy.

According to the website Astonautix, launching a Delta IV missile to send satellites into the sky cost the government around $250 million nearly a year ago, which takes into account only the price of liftoff related factors and not the suspected surveillance satellite itself or any maintenance.

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