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Massive rocket ready for launch at Vandenberg [Updated]

January 20, 2011 | 12:30 pm

A 23-story Delta IV Heavy rocket, the tallest ever to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, is set to blast off at 1:10 p.m Pacific time. Ula-rocket

[Updated at 1:45 p.m.: Thursday's launch appeared to go off without a hitch. But about 10 minutes after blastoff the live feed went black -- likely due to the secret nature of the mission.

A United Launch Alliance spokesman said in a statement: "It was a picture perfect launch of the largest rocket to ever from the west coast of the U.S. It just doesn’t get any better!"]

The giant rocket will lift off from the base’s Space Launch Complex 6, known on base as “Slick Six.” The launch pad was built in the 1960s and later intended to accommodate space shuttle launches.

According to analysts, the 235-foot rocket will be carrying a top-secret spy satellite for the National Reconaissance Office -- the covert federal umbrella agency that operates spy satellites.

The Delta IV Heavy is built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. The rocket’s three massive engines were built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in Canoga Park.

The rocket was initially set to blast off at 1:08 p.m., but United Launch announced a two-minute delay "to avoid an object in space that could have been in the path of the rocket." 

Watch the launch live above or at the rocket maker's website when the final countdown starts at 12:43 p.m. Pacific time.

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-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: The Delta IV Heavy rocket is raised to a vertical position for launch during preparations at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Credit: United Launch Alliance

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