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Air Force launches top secret satellite

A Titan rocket carries the top secret satellite into space early Tuesday.
A Titan rocket carries the top secret satellite into space early Tuesday.

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The Air Force launched a top secret satellite from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the National Reconnaissance Office before dawn Tuesday. (September 9)
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- The Air Force launched a top-secret satellite Tuesday for the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the United States' fleet of spy spacecraft.

A Titan IV-B rocket was used to launch the large spacecraft, believed to be an electronics listening satellite, into a position 22,300 miles above the Earth's equator.

The National Reconnaissance Office would not reveal any details about the satellite, including its cost, purpose or which contractor built it.

"I cannot discuss what the payload is other than to tell you that it will provide additional capabilities for our nation's leadership and military," said Art Haubold, a spokesman for the NRO.

This particular satellite was delayed for more than three years due to technical problems and had been scheduled for launch as recently as several months ago.

The NRO's electronics listening satellites use baseball diamond-size antennas which fold up like an umbrella for launch.

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The large antennas permit the satellite to monitor extremely faint signals, even individual cell phone conversations.

It's believed that similar satellites have been used to monitor and track terrorists.

Astronomer and satellite observer Ted Molczan said: "These satellites are so large they can be seen in high quality backyard telescopes. Some amateur satellite observers have photographed these satellites in their operational locations."

The launch marked the first NRO satellite from Florida in five years.

The previous launch, a less sophisticated listening satellite, did not reach orbit because the rocket's guidance system failed.

From Journalist Philip Chien

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