Atlas 5 rocket takes off on secret mission

CBS News

Lighting up the night sky, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying a classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite blasted off early Friday from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, climbing away on a southerly trajectory atop a torrent of fiery exhaust.

Equipped with a single solid-fuel strap-on booster, the towering Atlas 5-411 rocket roared to life and vaulted away from Space Launch Complex 3E at 12:24 a.m. EDT. It was only the third launch of an Atlas 5-411 rocket, with its single solid-fuel booster, since an initial flight from Florida in 2006 and one from Vandenberg in 2008.

The ascent Friday appeared normal. The solid-fuel booster burned out about 95 seconds after launch and the Centaur second stage's RL10 engine ignited as planned after the first stage exhausted its propellant and fell away.

But as usual with classified NRO launchings, commentary ceased just after Centaur ignition and separation of the protective payload fairing. The NROL-34 payload presumably reached its planned orbit around Earth's poles, but confirmation is not expected until observations by amateur satellite trackers.