PHOTOS: Atlas 5's late-night launch from California

A classified U.S. spy payload rocketed into orbit from California on an Atlas 5 launcher Thursday, joining the nation's eyes and ears in the sky to supply intelligence to the government's national security agencies.

The satellite is owned by the National Reconnaissance Office, but government officials do not disclose the identities of the NRO's spacecraft, only saying the payload will serve national security purposes.

But independent satellite-watchers believe the spacecraft will join the NRO's fleet of spacecraft with radars to penetrate cloaks of clouds and darkness and reveal what adversaries are doing regardless of weather or time of day.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 11:14:30 p.m. PST Thursday (0714:30 GMT; 2:14:30 a.m. EST Friday), majestically rising into clear skies on a chilly night at the spaceport on California's rugged Central Coast.

See our Mission Status Center for live coverage of the launch.

Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News

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