Atlas 5 rocket with spy satellite aboard blasts off in spectacular sunset launch

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral Wednesday evening carrying a classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite.

William Harwood/CBS News The astronauts' launch had been planned for Saturday, but the flight was delayed due to expected high winds at the launch site and offshore weather where SpaceX plans to land the rocket's first stage on a company droneship.

In any case, with a crowd of reporters on hand to watch the Atlas launch, the rocket smoothly accelerated as it consumed propellants and lost weight, powering through the speed of sound and the region of maximum aerodynamic stress as it climbed out of the thick lower atmosphere and arced away to the northeast.

The three strap-on boosters burned out and fell away as planned about two minutes into flight and the ascent continued on the power of the RD-180 engine.

The boosters appeared to work normally Friday and a little more than a minute after they were jettisoned, the two halves of the Atlas 5's clamshell-like payload fairing peeled away, exposing the satellite to the space environment.

Both types of satellites have used steeply inclined, highly elliptical "Molniya" orbits in the past to monitor Russia and other areas of interest in the northern hemisphere.

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