Boeing's newest and most powerful rocket, the Delta IV, blasted off on its inaugural flight Wednesday after months of delay and successfully hoisted a satellite into orbit.
The launch took place at 5:39 p.m., right after sunset, and left a corkscrew-shaped contrail in the darkening sky. A half-hour later, the communications satellite separated smoothly from the upper stage and flight controllers applauded and shook hands.
The long-awaited Delta IV is a vital part of the Air Force's push for more reliable and economic rockets. Its competitor is Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Atlas V, which successfully debuted in August.
The 200-foot Delta IV was propelled by the first new major liquid-fueled rocket engine made in America since the development of NASA's space shuttles in the 1970s.