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ULA launches spy satellite from Florida after weather delays

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket streaks through the twilight as it lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Friday, carrying a classified payload called NROL-101 for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket streaks through the twilight as it lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Friday, carrying a classified payload called NROL-101 for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 13 (UPI) -- A U.S. government spy satellite, NROL 101, was launched into orbit from Florida at sunset Friday after a week of weather delays.

United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket lifted off at 5:32 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After just a few minutes in flight, the rocket had reached 66 miles in altitude, according to launch announcers.

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Rain, clouds and wind from storm Eta, which reached hurricane strength at times, delayed the launch Sunday, according to ULA. A problem with the rocket's propellant fuel system had foiled a previous attempt on Nov. 4, according to the launch company.

The Defense Department's National Reconnaissance Office says little about any of its satellites, but the mission description states that the NROL 101 mission will "provide intelligence data to the United States' senior policymakers" and to the nation's intelligence agencies and military.

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The agency designed and built the satellite, and will operate it, according to the mission description.

The rocket used updated solid rocket boosters for the first time -- three GEM 63 motors built by Northrop Grumman. The strap-on boosters added to the total thrust.

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The first-stage rocket core provides 860,200 pounds of thrust at liftoff. The three side boosters provide an additional 371,550 pounds, for a total of 1.23 million pounds.

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By comparison, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket provides more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, according to the company.

The new boosters are part of ULA's transition away from the Atlas V and toward a new rocket and launch system, Vulcan. The company plans its first Vulcan launch in the first half of 2021.

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