Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched a top-secret spy satellite for the US military and also made history by successfully landing the booster for recycling. The Falcon 9 rocket had lifted off a leased pad from NASA, which is at Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre. This is reportedly SpaceX’s first national security mission, where it sent a spy satellite into the orbit for National Reconnaissance Office. However, there is no detail available on the newly launched NRO satellite. Interestingly, SpaceX emphasised on its webcast on the successful touchdown of the first-stage booster. After the launch, SpaceX landed the Falcon 9’s first stage rocket which is a 14-storey high core and contains the main engines and almost all the fuel back on the ground.
However, similar to other NRO launches, it is almost impossible to get details about the final destination or the intentions of this satellite. It is so secretive that even the broadcasts are cut short so that the purpose or destination can remain hidden. SpaceX had made the first attempt to launch the satellite on Sunday but it was foiled at the last minute reportedly due to a bad sensor. On Monday, ahead of the launch, Musk had tweeted about the wind: “Worrying, but not a showstopper.” Later he said that both the launch and landing were good.
The launch comes only a few weeks after SpaceX’s historic mission, in which it flew one of the already landed Falcon 9 boosters for the very first time. It could put a satellite into orbit for a company called SES, according to Reuters. The company could also retrieve the first stage by landing it on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The Falcon 9 which launched the NROL-76 mission used a brand new first stage, however, and it’s unclear when SpaceX will by flying a used booster again.
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The reason this is a historic launch as it has become one of the rare NRO missions in the past 10 years, which hasn’t been done by United Launch Alliance. The ULA is a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which had reportedly become probably the only provider for military satellite launches, until SpaceX received certification in 2015, according to agency reports.