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Stunning Night Lights: Photos of New Spy Satellite's Launch

When a huge Atlas 5 rocket blasts off at night,photographers pay attention. And last night's rocket launch was no exception.

The unmanned Atlas 5 rocket launched from Vandenberg AirForce Base in California yesterday (Sept. 20) to send a new classifiedsatellite for "national security" into orbit for theU.S. National Reconnaissance Office, Air Force officials said. The satellite,while secret, is called NROL-41.

This stunning photo was taken by photographer Pat Corkeryfor United Launch Alliance, the joint Boeing-Lockheed Martin venture thatprovided the Atlas 5 rocket for last night's launch. Here, the 193-foot(59-meter) rocket is shown just after engine ignition.

Liftoff at 9:03:30 p.m. PDT (0003:30 EDT, 0403:30 GMT),about a half hour later than planned due to a parkedcar in a restricted zone, which caused a slight delay.

Launch close-ups aren't the only stand out photos fromthe Atlas 5 launch.

In this image below, the rocket appears to be riding thetip of a spear of light as it soars into space.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Andrew Lee snapped thelong-exposure view of the liftoff.

The Atlas 5 launch that sent the NROL-41 satellite intospace was the second of three scheduled September launches from Vandenberg AirForce Base.

Unlike civilian or routine military satellite launches,the NROL-41 satellite's mission is a secret. The NationalReconnaissance Office imposed a media blackout on the satellite'sstatus as the mission approached the 4-minute mark to maintain security.


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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.