Watch : In a successful Easter mission, SpaceX deploys a US spy satellite and lands a rocket
The first NRO satellite to launch on a recycled rocket is NROL-85.
Today (April 17), SpaceX successfully launched a covert spy satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and successfully landed the returning rocket back on Earth, completing a spaceflight twofer on Easter.
At 9:13 a.m. EDT, a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket carrying the NROL-85 satellite launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California (1313 GMT; 6:13 a.m. local California time).
The two stages of the SpaceX rocket separated 2.5 minutes later. The first stage returned to Earth, landing vertically at Vandenberg’s Landing Zone 4 about eight minutes after launch, in what could be the ultimate Easter Sunday bunny hop. Due to the mission’s classified nature, SpaceX terminated its live webcast of the launch shortly after the Falcon 9 landed.
According to a SpaceX mission description, this was the second landing for this specific launcher, which previously assisted in the launch of the NROL-87 spacecraft, another NRO spy satellite, from Vandenberg on Feb. 2. According to NRO officials, this is the first time an NRO satellite has launched aboard a recycled rocket.
After the landing, SpaceX’s lead integration engineer, John Insprucker, commented, “It also represents our 114th overall successful recovery of a first-stage booster.”
Meanwhile, the Falcon 9’s upper stage continued to accelerate its way to orbit, where it will eventually deliver the NROL-85 satellite. We don’t know when or where that deployment will take place, which is understandable given who booked today’s trip.
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) manages the US spy satellite fleet and keeps a tight lid on the craft’s activities and payloads. The satellite NROL-85 is no exception; the NRO’s mission press kit describes it simply as “a national security payload developed, constructed, and operated by NRO.”
Today was SpaceX’s 14th launch of 2022, and its second in less than a week. A Falcon 9 launched Ax-1, the first all-private crewed mission to the International Space Station, on April 8. The Dragon capsule of Ax-1 is expected to leave the orbiting lab on April 19 and return to Earth the next day with an ocean splashdown.
And there will be more SpaceX launches in the near future. For example, on April 21, a Falcon 9 is set to launch a large batch of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellites from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
On April 23, the corporation will launch NASA’s Crew-4 mission, which will bring four professional astronauts to the orbiting lab for an extended stay. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, which is adjacent to the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, will launch Crew-4.