A Titan rocket packing a secret Pentagon payload streaked off on an apparently routine flight into orbit, but the fiery blastoff ignited brush fires that closed the launch area for more than an hour.
The $65 million Titan 34D lifted off at 3:47 p.m. Wednesday and appeared to be flying normally through a partly cloudy sky.As with other military space flights, the Air Force did not announce the launch in advance. But with more than 20,000 employees working at Cape Canaveral and adjacent Kennedy Space Center, it couldn't hide the fact that the 16-story-tall rocket was going to be launched. Minutes before liftoff, hundreds of workers poured out of buildings to watch.
The Air Force issued a brief post-launch statement saying only that a Titan 34D had been launched successfully. It provided no information on the nature of the payload.
There was no damage to launch pad from brush fires triggered by the rocket's exhaust, officials said.
Lt. Gen. Aloysius Casey, retiring commander of the Air Force Space Division, told a conference last year that the first Titan 34D launched in 1989 would carry up two communications satellites named DSCS - for Defense Satellite Communications System. They are to provide secure voice and data transmission for U.S. military and diplomatic communications.
One Titan 34D remains in the Air Force inventory. It is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral later this year and will be replaced by the more powerful Titan 4.
The first Titan 4 is scheduled for launch here within a few weeks, carrying a satellite designed to provide instant warning of a hostile missile attack on the United States.