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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
Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. 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 Twitter.