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January 20, 2011 / Dave Gorham

First Space Launch of 2011…Another One this Afternoon

We have liftoff! The first rocket launch of 2011 occurred Thursday at 12:29 GMT (7:29 a.m. EST) in Kazakhstan, but another launch will occur this afternoon (1:08 p.m. PST) right here in the U.S. on the West Coast. The Delta IV Heavy rocket is expected to blast off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California later today and this will be the tallest rocket (at 235 feet) ever to be launched from the West Coast.

The Zenit rocket. Photo: Tsenki TV

Earlier today the Zenit rocket was launched in Kazakhstan. It’s approximately 20 stories tall and is equipped with a Russian weather satellite that will be able to capture real-time images of clouds and storms. The Electro-L 1 satellite, which is Russia’s second high-altitude weather observer, is expected to be released from the launcher at 21:28 GMT (4:28 p.m. EST). The satellite will collect weather imagery several times an hour with both visible and infrared cameras and is expected to function for up to 10 years. The weather sensors will observe storm systems across Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. This satellite will be used not only to study space weather but also for search-and-rescue services. More Russian missions are planned for the next few years with the next launch expected in May.

The Delta IV Heavy will be the tallest rocket to ever be launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base. Photo: United Launch Alliance

Meanwhile in California, a 23-story rocket is poised for liftoff this afternoon. Analysts say that the three-engine Delta IV Heavy rocket will be carrying a top-secret spy satellite for the U.S. government capable of snapping pictures detailed enough to distinguish the make and model of an automobile thousands of miles below. The Delta IV Heavy’s first flight occurred back in 2004 from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida so this will be the first launch from the West Coast. A webcast is set to begin at 12:43 p.m. PST today and you can view it at the rocket maker’s website. The weather looks ideal today for the launch with sunny skies and light northerly winds.

For those of you in southern California as this rocket launches, the trailing plume across the sky will not be a contrail like what they saw last November. Whether or not you come out to the public viewing today for the Vandenberg launch, if you live in the area you’ll definitely be able to feel and hear it. It will sound like a freight train coming through when it blasts off. It won’t be a typical launch on the West Coast, that’s for sure.


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