Parked Car Causes Stir During Spy Satellite Launch

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WASHINGTON — A new U.S. spy satellite launched into space Sept. 20 on the latest classified mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), but not before a private car caused delays because it was parked in the wrong spot.

The classified satellite NROL-41 blasted off at 9:03 p.m. local time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. An  Atlas 5 rocket built by United Launch Alliance of Denver carried the satellite into space.

The satellite’s launch was delayed about a half-hour due to the errant car, which was parked at Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 8 — an area that was supposed to be clear of vehicles. The NROL-41 satellite soared spaceward from the nearby Space Launch Complex 3E.

Flight controllers wanted to be sure it was not a range safety concern, launch officials said. They later decided it was no concern for the launch.

Aside from the delay, the launch went smoothly despite thick fog earlier in the day and some cloudy weather. The 59-meter Atlas 5 rocket lit up the night over California as it headed for orbit.

“This Atlas launch is the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work on the part of all the men and women of the 30th Space Wing and our mission partners,” said Air Force Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, in a statement.

The satellite’s launch time was slightly adjusted early in the countdown to avoid the chance of NROL-41 flying too close to another object in space once it arrived in orbit.

About three minutes and 45 seconds after launch, the satellite’s protective fairing separated from its rocket and the mission went into a media blackout at the NRO’s request.

The launch was the NRO’s first in 20 months. The agency aims to conduct four more launches over the next eight months, National Reconnaissance Office Director Bruce Carlson said Sept. 13. The NRO’s next satellite is slated to launch Oct. 19 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.