An Atlas 5 rocket is launched April 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Daniel Dreifuss / AP)
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, CALIF. — A U.S. military weather satellite was successfully launched into orbit early Thursday, the Air Force said.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the 19th Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft blasted off at 7:46 a.m. PDT and quickly rose into the cold, clear sky above the launch site on the Pacific coast about 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
About 18 minutes later, the satellite successfully separated from the upper-stage rocket.
The satellite will circle the Earth in a polar orbit at an altitude of about 525 miles (847 kilometers).
The satellite, with two primary sensors provided by Northrop Grumman, was built by Lockheed Martin. The company said signals from the satellite were confirmed shortly after launch.
The satellite had been waiting to be boosted into space since the 1990s because its predecessors lasted longer than expected. During the interim it received technology upgrades. The last launch in the program was in October 2009.
DMSP satellites have been the primary provider of terrestrial and space weather information to the U.S. military for 50 years, the Air Force said.