Rocket with secret payload launches off California

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - A rocket from Colorado's United Launch Alliance lifted off overnight carrying a secret payload for the U.S. government.

The Atlas V rocket lit up the night sky at about 11:15 p.m. Thursday, lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California toward low-Earth orbit.

The 19-story-tall rocket carried a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the nation's system of intelligence-gathering satellites. The agency has not released any details about the payload.

A California cold snap had threatened a possible delay, but the rocket took off within moments of the opening of its launch window.

Thursday's launch was the second time an Atlas 5 rocket has lifted off from the West Coast this year. Overall, there have been 77 Atlas V launches from Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral, Fla.

United Launch Alliance's program management, engineering, test, and mission support functions are headquartered in Denver.