Thursday, March 29, 2012

RQ-11 Raven drones

Before the launch of a top-secret spy satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, a fleet of small drones will be doing some spying of their own.

In yet another use of robotic aircraft, RQ-11 Raven drones equipped with high-powered video cameras will fly around the craggy launch site northwest of Santa Barbara, scouring the ground below to ensure that the area is clear for blastoff.

"Public safety is our first priority during launch operations, " said Staff Sgt. Brandon Johnson, who is a Raven operator and crime prevention officer.

"Raven operations contribute to the overall safety of our mission by ensuring the area is clear of personnel while minimizing the number of people necessary to patrol the area."

The Vandenberg crew will be using the drones to scan the launch safety zone before the liftoff, now scheduled for Friday at 3:38 p.m. They'll be looking for intruders, including those who might be unaware of the pending launch or seeking a good vantage point from which to watch.

The 21-story rocket is set to lift a satellite — classified as a "national security payload," according to Vandenberg officials — into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. The agency is in charge of designing, building, launching and maintaining nation's spy satellites.

By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

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