Air Force launches Titan 4B rocket carrying secret military payload


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Spying? :eek

Air Force launches Titan 4B rocket carrying secret military payload

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. A Titan 4B rocket lit up the night sky as it roared from its pad early Tuesday carrying a classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite into space.

Air Force officials would not discuss the secret payload, but the NRO is charged with building and monitoring the nation's network of spy satellites and providing reconnaissance information to the Central Intelligence Agency and the military.

The Lockheed Martin-built Titan has a rich military legacy dating back to its development in the mid-1950s. The Titan 1 became the nation's first two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile and first underground silo-based ICBM.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Evan McCollum said the Titan 4B that launched Monday is the largest, most powerful unmanned launch vehicle in use in the United States. It featured two massive 112-foot solid rocket boosters and a two-stage liquid Aerozine-50 and nitrogen tetroxide main engine that boosted the rocket into space.

A liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen Centaur upper stage was to boost the cargo into its proper orbit. The Air Force would not comment on the destination of the payload or provide any information about its whereabouts after the separation of the second stage from the Centaur.

Only three Titan 4 rockets remain to be launched. The family is being replaced by two new rockets, the Boeing Delta 4 and the Lockheed Martin Atlas 5. Both of those rockets were developed under contract with the Air Force to provide cheaper, more reliable access to space for military payloads.

The launch had been delayed since April 2002 due to a series of technical problems and issues with the secret payload.

A faulty pump caused a fuel leak Aug. 12 as the propellant was being loaded onto the rocket. Air Force officials said about 40 gallons of nitrogen tetroxide spilled during the incident, forcing the evacuation of the launch complex. No one was hurt and that the fuel dissipated harmlessly into the atmosphere, officials said. That pump was replaced.

Air Force spokesman Ken Warren said the rocket cost $450 million. The cost of the satellite is classified.