The United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has successfully launched an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, containing a spy satellite into low orbit in California on 1st March 2017. Recordings of the launch can be watched online.

A successful launch

The United Launch Alliance declared the mission a success when the payload was separated from the rocket without encountering any problems.

As early as 81 seconds into the flight, the rocket reached the speed of sound. The main engine cutoff 243 seconds after launch, and 6 seconds later the separation of the rocket occurred.

Four minutes and 267 seconds into the mission, the payload that protected the spy satellite was jettisoned.

There are few details on what happened next, as the recordings end here.

Spy satellite part of classified mission

The spy satellite's mission and specific details are unknown, due to it being a classified piece of hardware run by the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates and is responsible for the development of outer space investigative systems for United States intelligence. Only the mission's name has been made public: NROL-79. The NROL-79 may be two Naval Ocean Surveillance Satellite spacecraft such as the ones used by the United States Navy on the previous missions NROL-36 and NROL-55.

Delayed by wildfires

The NROL-79 mission was to be launched in December, but it was set back by a number of delays, such as a massive wildfire, dubbed the Canyon Fire, that mobilized over 250 firefighters and damaged Vandenberg Air Base. The second delay took place when second stage booster issues were found during vehicle testing, necessitating a month-long delay as the ULA made sure the problem was corrected and the rocket was guaranteed to perform normally.

When the launch finally took place, the rocket sported the name of a firefighter who died fighting the wildfire.

Atlas V's 70th mission

The Atlas V rocket has been a favorite of both the US military and various customers due to its reliability ever since it entered service in 2002. This was the rocket's 70th mission, after launching satellites for several US military outfits such as the Navy, Air Force, NASA and National Reconnaissance Office.

The launch of NROL-79 spy satellite marks the first of three launches within 19 days for the United Launch Alliance, with the next mission being the launch of WGS-9 on March 8.