For Full Story: CBS News

Article By: William Harwood


Lighting up the night sky, a high-power Atlas 5 rocket streaked away from Florida early Wednesday carrying a $1.8 billion military communications satellite built to withstand the most powerful jamming and even the effects of a nearby nuclear blast to ensure steady communications with troops around the world.

The Atlas 5’s Russian-built RD-180 first stage engine thundered to life with a brilliant jet of flame at 12:15 a.m. EDT¬†followed immediately by ignition of five Aerojet Rocketdyne solid-fuel strap-on boosters.

Generating a combined 2.6 million pounds of thrust, the powerful engine and side boosters quickly pushed the 197-foot-tall rocket away from pad 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, lighting up Florida’s “Space Coast” for dozens of miles around.

It was only the ninth flight of United Launch Alliance’s most powerful “551” version of the Atlas 5, a variant that debuted in 2006 when it boosted NASA’s New Horizons probe on a fast-track trajectory to Pluto.

Putting on a dazzling sky show, the rocket quickly arced away to the east over the Atlantic Ocean trailing a long jet of rushing flame as it rapidly consumed propellants, lost weight and steadily accelerated out of the thick lower atmosphere.