SpaceX makes first US military launch
MIAMI: SpaceX yesterday blasted off a secretive United States government payload, known only as NROL-76, marking the first military launch for the Californiabased aerospace company headed by billionaire Elon Musk.
The payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which makes and operates spy satellites for the US, soared into the sky atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 7.15am.
About 10 minutes after launch, the scorched first stage of the rocket came back to Earth and landed upright at Cape Canaveral, marking the fourth successful solid ground landing for SpaceX.
“And we have touchdown,” a SpaceX commentator said on the live webcast of the event as cheers broke out at mission control.
“The first stage has landed back at Landing Zone 1. Another good day for us at SpaceX. A beautiful sight to see.”
Live video of the launch showed the first and second stages of the rocket separating about two and a half minutes into the flight.
The larger, first stage, made a gentle arc and powered its nitrogen thrusters to guide it back to Earth. The rocket then set itself down, gently and steadily, in the centre of the 91m circular landing zone.
Musk is leading an effort in the rocket industry to reuse costly parts rather than jettison them into the ocean after each launch.
SpaceX has already made multiple successful landings, some on floating platforms — known as drone ships — in the ocean.
The launch was planned for Sunday, but was postponed in the last seconds before liftoff due to a sensor issue with the rocket, SpaceX said.
The sensor was replaced ahead of yesterday’s attempt.
Little was known about the payload due to its classified nature.
“As a matter of policy and because of classification, NRO does not provide information about our contracts,” a spokesman said.
SpaceX regularly launches unmanned cargo ships to the International Space Station, and is working on a crew capsule that could carry humans into orbit as early as next year.
A Falcon 9 rocket
carrying a classified satellite
for the United States National Reconnaissance Office lifting off from the historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida,