U.S. launches largest rocket carrying spy satellite

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The United States on Thursday launched Delta IV Heavy, the largest rocket ever, carrying a spy satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The three-engine rocket, carrying the 1-billion-dollar top- secret spy satellite NROL-49, blasted off at 1:10 p.m. (2110 GMT) from the base, 130 miles (209 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

The launch will make the U.S. government capable of snapping pictures detailed enough to distinguish the make and model of an automobile hundreds of miles below, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The rocket, 235 feet (72 meter) in height, is the largest rocket that has ever been launched in the base. Three hydrogen- fueled engines -- each roughly the size of a semi-truck -- provide 17 million horsepower.

Delta IV Heavy Launch Vehicle was built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Boeing Co.. This is the rocket's fifth launch since it made its maiden flight in 2004.

The vehicle is capable of lifting payloads of up to 24 tons into low Earth orbit. All four of the previous Delta IV Heavy launches took place at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. , according to reports.

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