235-Foot Rocket Blasts Off From California With Defense Satellite

The Delta IV Heavy rocket launch is a joint venture involving Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company

A powerful 235-foot tall rocket -- the tallest launch vehicle in the country -- climbed toward the sky with a roar heard for miles along the California coast when it took off Wednesday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base (map) northwest of Santa Barbara.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket carried a top-secret defense satellite into space. The launch was conducted by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company formed in 2006 to conduct space missions for the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, Air Force and other agencies.

The launch marks the second time a towering and powerful Delta IV Heavy rocket took off from the West Coast. In January 2011, a sound wave blasted over the nearby community of Lompoc as the rocket unleashed a roar that could be heard about 50 miles away.

The Delta IV, actually a three-booster cluster, is the nation's tallest rocket in regular service. It can carry payloads up to 24 tons to low-Earth orbit and 11 tons to the orbit used by communications satellites.

The tallest rocket to launch in the 21st Century is NASA's Ares 1. It stood 327 feet tall and was launched in October 2009 to test a rocket design for a crew capsule that was part of a now-defunct program.

Saturn V retains the title of tallest rocket at 363 feet tall. The three-stage booster launched astronauts on space missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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