CAPE CANAVERAL, NOV. 29 -- The successful launch of a classified Defense Department satellite aboard a Titan 34D rocket signifies a resurgent military space program and an end to the long "dry spell" created by a string of space disasters, officials say.
In a spectacular Saturday night liftoff, the giant Titan 34D, America's most powerful unmanned rocket, roared away from its launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:27 after a secret countdown, lighting up the sky for miles and surprising thousands of Floridians.
The rocket's payload was classified, but space experts said it was thought to be a satellite that provides early warning of enemy missiles and is an important part of the defense support program. It was believed set to orbit 22,300 miles above the equator.
Such satellites, equipped with heat-sensitive telescopes to detect enemy missile launches, rely on an attached rocket motor for the push to their final orbital position. The maneuver presumably was completed early today, but Air Force officials decided before launch not to discuss that portion of the flight.
The performance of the Titan 34D, however, was hailed as a complete success.
"We are really back in business now," said Col. Lawrence Gooch, commander of the Eastern Space and Missile Center at nearby Patrick Air Force Base. "We're going to be very busy around here from now on."