The Air Force and its industry partners launched a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload into space from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. “This Atlas V launch marked the last of the year and I am very proud of the teamwork that led to the success of not only today’s launch, but those that preceded,” said Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, of the Dec. 12 mission in Vandy’s release. The Atlas configuration used in the mission, designated NROL-35, had four solid rocket boosters, along with the Atlas V’s main engine. This made it “the most powerful Atlas ever launched from California, with more than two million pounds of liftoff thrust,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, in a release. The mission also marked the inaugural flight of the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine. “ULA is extremely pleased with this first flight of the new RL10C-1 engine,” said Sponnick. NROL-35 was the third and final NRO launch in 2014, according to NRO’s release.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.