SpaceX launched a top-secret spy satellite for the U.S. government early Monday and then successfully landed the booster for expected reuse. The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from SpaceX’s NASA-leased pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida was the company’s first mission for the National Reconnaissance Office. No details were divulged about the newly launched NRO satellite. Instead, SpaceX focused its webcast on the successful touchdown of the first-stage booster.
Roughly nine minutes after lifting off, the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, a feat that SpaceX first accomplished in December 2015. Landing, refurbishing and reusing rockets is key to the company’s vision of making space travel increasingly affordable. The launch had been planned for Sunday but it was delayed for 24 hours due a problem with a sensor.Elon Musk
“Launch and landing of the NRO spy satellite was good,” CEO Musk said on Twitter. “Tough call, as high altitude wind shear was at 98.6% of the theoretical load limit.”
Minutes before the launch, Musk had warned that “winds aloft are unusually high,” calling the conditions “worrying, but not a showstopper.”
The customer for the launch was the National Reconnaissance Office, a U.S. government agency that develops and maintains spy satellites.SpaceX
The payload, referred to as NROL-76, is classified. SpaceX shared no details on what type of surveillance the device will perform, how large it is or where in orbit it’s being delivered.
The NRO says it surveys potential threats to the United States by tracking terrorists and monitoring the development of nuclear weapons in other countries. It can also provide an early warning of a potential missile strike.
SpaceX typically broadcasts entire missions online, but this time the company shut off footage of the launch just after the first-stage booster separated from the upper stage of the rocket.