Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral

Rocket taking Air Force satellites into space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - An Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station early Wednesday morning, roaring toward orbit with an Air Force communications satellite onboard.

The 197-foot-tall United Launch Alliance rocket leaped off its launch pad at 4:10 a.m. -- 66 minutes behind schedule. Launch managers had to wait for cumulus clouds to clear the area and upper-level winds to die down.

Propelled by a sporty Russian main engine and three strap-on solid rocket boosters, the first stage of the rocket climbed a straight-up flight profile before curving out over the Atlantic Ocean. The three solid rocket motors were jettisoned about two minutes into flight and twinkled orange as they fell toward the sea.

Riding aboard the Atlas V: the third of six Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellites. The jam-resistant spacecraft are each 10 times more capable than the Milstar constellation they are replacing.

The launch was the 40th for Atlas V rockets and the 75th since Boeing and Lockheed Martin merged the Atlas V and Delta IV rocket families under the United Launch Alliance banner in December 2006.

The next launch for ULA at the Cape will be a Delta IV rocket with a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite on Oct. 17. The launch window that day will open at 6:20 p.m. and close 18 minutes later.

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