America's Largest Liquid Fueled Rocket to Launch from West Coast Thursday

The Delta IV being erected on its Pad | Photo by Pat Corkery/ULAIt is as tall as a 23-story building, one and a half times taller than the Statue of Liberty and towers about 50 feet above the Space Shuttle. If it were to travel horizontally on a freeway, it would take up four and a half lanes. Without fuel and a satellite, it weighs 180,000 pounds -- with it: over 1.6 million pounds. And when it launches, it will burn up to a ton of that fuel every second.

Meet the Delta IV Heavy, which is scheduled to launch Thursday afternoon with the mission of delivering a satellite into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, the government organization that supports the U.S. intelligence community and the Department of Defense through space communication technology.

This will be the fifth launch for the huge rocket and the first for it on the West Coast. It is the largest modern-day rocket, and the second largest ever next to the Saturn V, which was last used in the early 1970s.

Originally scheduled for Monday -- technical problems delayed it -- the launch is now set for 1:08 p.m. PST on Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County. Officials with United Launch Alliance (ULA), the private agency contracted to provide launch services, believe there will be no more delays.

The proximity of the launch to Los Angeles means it should be visible. For those closer to the base, it's an even more amazing sight.

"This will be a window rattler," said Denny Anderson, President and CEO of the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce. "These things for our community never get to be old hat. They're always exciting to one degree or another, depending on what it is. This is going to be noisy and spectacular."

And the event is a boon for tourism, explained Anderson of the hundreds of employees who flock to town to prepare for the launch weeks, or even months, in advance. And because of the size of the rocket, tomorrow's launch is expected to draw a good number of out-of-town viewers. "You can imagine what this does to our hotels, our restaurants, our wineries, our stores -- the whole 9 yards. It's very positive," he noted.

About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCET's Director of News, Region and State, working on digital and on-air news products that relate to Southern California and beyond.
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The comment regarding "window rattler" in the above story brought back memories. In the late 60s, I was an Air Force officer stationed at Vandenberg. At that time, we were launching the liquid-fueled Atlas missiles, as well as the early solid-fueled Titan missiles downrange into the Pacific. I was living in Bachelor Officer's Quarters on base, just about a half mile from the Atlas launch pads. On the second night following my arrival on base, I was awakened by the floor and bed lurching and heaving, and a deafening roar, with sun-bright light streaming through the blinds. Someone had decided that scientific research would be advanced by lighting off an Atlas at 2:15 a.m. Without warning. Window rattler, indeed. Believe me when I say there is no spectacle that compares to the launch and flight of any missile of this size.