The long, thin, beam of light rising up over the Californian coast looks like something from another world.
The Minotaur 1 rocket is carrying a spy satellite which will improve the ability of the U.S. to collect data in space.
This particular payload carries some of the work we do in techniques and methods to improve intelligence collection. All part of our work to keep improving the value of our data,' a spokesman for the National Reconnaissance Office told the Spaceflight Now website.
The rocket took off from Vandenberg U.S. Air Force Base at 4.26am local time amid clear skies, said Colonel Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander and the mission's leader.
The launch, which was scheduled for Saturday, had been delayed by 24 hours because of power problems with the rocket's safety equipment.
The four-stage, solid-fuelled rocket was carrying NRO equipment but officials gave no further details on the craft's purpose or cost.
More than 200 people from the 30th Space Wing, Orbital Sciences, the Space and Missile Systems Center and the National Reconnaissance Office worked on the project.
'I am extremely proud of the large group of professionals that came together to launch this rocket,' Colonel Boltz said in a statement.
The 63ft-tall Minotaur 1 is among the smallest of the many rockets that launch from the base 160 miles north-west of Los Angeles.
The rocket is assembled from retired Minuteman stages combined with technology from Orbital Sciences. It can carry up to 1,278lbs to low-Earth orbit.
The launch was the 20th Minotaur mission since the first one launched from Vandenberg in 2000.
The next Vandenberg launch will be a Taurus rocket, also made by Orbital Sciences, scheduled to carry a Nasa observation satellite into orbit on February 23.