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Top-secret satellite launched from California

By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Barely visible in the dense fog at Vandenberg Air Force Base Thursday afternoon, , a 19-story rocket roared to life and boosted a top-secret satellite into orbit.

Little is known about the spacecraft except that it belongs to the National Reconnaissance Office. The secretive federal agency is in charge of designing, building, launching and maintaining the nation’s spy satellites.

The satellite was lifted into space atop United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.

The mission had been delayed six weeks because of a glitch with equipment on the base northwest of Santa Barbara. But the problem was fixed and the launch proceeded despite the fog.

The launch was shown on United Launch Alliance’s website, but it was cut off more than a minute after liftoff for security reasons. The rocket maker didn’t say whether the launch was a complete success.

The launch also delivered 11 smaller satellites, known as CubeSats, for the National Reconnaissance Office and NASA. The miniature satellites will study such things as weather and space debris, and will track maritime shipping containers.

CubeSats were developed by laboratories, government entities and universities.

One of the CubeSats, called Aeneas, was built by USC’s Space Engineering Research Center.

It has the ability to deploy a parabolic dish and track a point on the surface of the Earth. USC says it’s the first CubeSat with this tracking ability.

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