VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, CA - A massive rocket carrying a new U.S. spy satellite lifted off from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base Wednesday.
Details about the satellite, designated NROL-65, are classified. But the three-booster Delta-IV rocket used to send it aloft Wednesday is the heaviest in the U.S. inventory, capable of putting a 25-ton payload into low Earth orbit.
It's one of two launches the top-secret National Reconnaissance Office has on the books for late 2013, NRO Director Betty Sapp told a congressional committee in April.
The payload in Wednesday's launch is thought to be "a $1-billion high-powered spy satellite capable of snapping pictures detailed enough to distinguish the make and model of an automobile hundreds of miles below," the Los Angeles Times reported.
The 232-foot-tall booster was developed by the U.S. Air Force and the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
NROL-65 is the second launch from Vandenberg of the Delta IV Heavy. The first was in January 2011.