Skip to main content
  1. News
  2. Science & Space

Atlas 5 rocket carries secret payload and hitchikers from Vandenberg AFB

See also

An Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Complex 3 Thursday night at 11:39pm, PDT. The rocket, designated NROL-39 carried a primary classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office and a secondary payload of 12 special satellite packages

Hitching a ride on the Atlas 5 were 12 CubeSats or Nano satellites from the following schools and agencies:

• AeroCube5, Aerospace Corp
• ALICE, Air Force Institute of Technology
• CUNYSAT-1, Medgar Evers College, City University of New York
• FIREBIRD, Montana State University, University of New Hampshire, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Aerospace Corp
• IPEX, California Polytechnic State University and PolySat
• MCubed-2, Michigan eXploration Laboratory
• SMDC-ONE (Charlie), SMDC-ONE (David), SNaP
• TacSat-6, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command

Nanosatellites are small satellites weighing ten pounds or less and some are as small as a human hand. The nanosatellite program is sponsored by the NRO's Mission Integration Directorate and NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellites, or ELaNa program.

Another unusual aspect of tonight’s launch is that the flight path was in a southwest direction for a retrograde orbit of the payloads. This type of flight path places the payloads moving opposite to the earth’s rotation.

The launch should be visible through most of Southern California and Mexico.



  • Mt. Everest avalanche
    Disaster strikes Mt. Everest as at least 12 people were killed in an avalanche
    Watch Video
  • Most Earthlike planet discovered
    The Kepler telescope has discovered the most Earthlike, possibly habitable planet yet
    Space News
  • Easter crosses create debate
    Easter crosses spark a debate of separation of church and state in Ohio
  • Chelsea Clinton is preggers
    Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child
  • Stanley Cup playoffs
    The battle for Lord Stanley's Cup is on, don't miss a minute of playoff action
  • Ukraine discussed amongst U.S., E.U., Russia
    The U.S., E.U. and Russia agree on ways to diffuse the tension in Ukraine
    Watch Video

User login

Log in
Sign in with your email and password. Or reset your password.
Write for us
Interested in becoming an Examiner and sharing your experience and passion? We're always looking for quality writers. Find out more about and apply today!