A Delta IV rocket soared into space last Tuesday in California, carrying “CLASSIFIED CARGO” for the National Reconnaissance Office. And everyone knows that means one thing: spy gear! Or at least something equally cool.
The rocket carrying the “top-secret payload” was launched at 4:12 p.m. from the Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, the Associated Press reports. Live video of the launch was cut off three minutes after liftoff, and its whereabouts were not immediately known, which isn’t surprising.
However, Jim Sponnick, the vice president of mission operations for the United Launch Alliance (a joint venture between rocket builders Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co.), said in a statement that the rocket will deliver “critical capabilities to the men and women defending our freedom throughout the world.” Tuesday’s launch is the first in five launches over the next four months.
The AP reports that intelligence analysts believe the rocket is most likely carrying a radar imaging satellite that will be able to capture images at night and through bad weather, allowing the U.S. to get up close and personal with countries it has its eye on.
The older reconnaissance satellites are being phased out with the smaller, updated versions, which will provide highly detailed images that normal Earth satellites are unable to produce.
And you thought Google Earth was creepy.