US Spy Satellite Launched by SpaceX; NRO Reuses a Rocket Booster for The First Time

This was the aerospace company's 14th launch of 2022 and second of the week

A secret spy satellite was successfully launched by SpaceX from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The launch happened on Sunday with a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket carrying the NROL-85 spacecraft, officials confirmed.

The US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), a government agency that provides intelligence data by building and launching US satellites, stated that it was the first time they have reused a rocket booster which had already been launched to space once.

This rocket was the same one that launched an NRO payload specifically NROL-87 spacecraft from Vandenberg on 2nd February, according to the office. The NRO described the NROL-85 satellite as "critical national security payload."

Developed by Elon Musk's SpaceX, the Falcon 9 is created to be the first orbital-class rocket with the ability of launching multiple missions with a way to bring down costs. SpaceX also aired a live webcast of the launch which showcased the rocket's two stages separated about 2.5 minutes later.

Falcon 9 SpaceX
Falcon 9 at Vandenberg Air Force Base - 2016 Wikimedia Commons

As per a mission description by the aerospace company, the first stage headed back to Earth, making a vertical touchdown at Vandenberg's Landing Zone 4 approximately eight minutes after launch.

However, due to the classified nature of the mission the NRO requested the aerospace company to end the webcast just after the Falcon 9 landing. The upper stage of the Falcon 9 that was launched will continue its journey to the orbit where it will finally deploy the NROL-85 satellite.

SpaceX HQ, Hawthorne, CA Wikimedia Commons

This launch was SpaceX's 14th of 2022 and its second in just over a week. The first one being on 8th April, a Falcon 9 lofted Ax-1, the first-ever all-private crewed mission to the International Space Station. This dragon capsule is lined up for departure from the orbiting lab on 19th April and come back to Earth a day later.

With more SpaceX liftoffs scheduled soon, John Insprucker, SpaceX's principal integration engineer, after the landing said that this mission, "also marks our 114th overall successful recovery of a first-stage booster." The launch was one of three, Air Force had contracted to SpaceX in 2019 for a combined fixed price of $297 million.

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