SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center

James Marshall
May 13, 2017

SpaceX Falcon successfully launched a classified military spy satellite into orbit Monday and landed its rocket booster. It hoisted a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, marking the first time in USA history that a commercial company has sent a spy satellite into orbit.

SpaceX hoped Sunday to boldly go where it has never gone before, making its first foray into the government reconnaissance industry with the scheduled launch of a USA spy satellite.

NROL-76 was originally scheduled to launch on Sunday, but was delayed due to an issue with a sensor on the first stage engine, according to SpaceX.

According to a tweet by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the second launch almost didn't happen due to the wind.

And given that SpaceX is promising lower launch costs across the board (and even lower costs in the future thanks to reusable first stage Falcon 9 boosters), it could spell trouble for ULA, which previously sued to remain the sole launch partner for the Department of Defense. It was SpaceX's first big national security payload, and a sign of things to come as the aerospace company breaks into the shadowy world of military and national security launches.

SpaceX's business rival United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, had previously nearly cornered the market for national security-related rocket launches. Across the country, cheers erupted at SpaceX Mission Control at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

"Tough call, as high altitude wind shear was at 98.6% of the theoretical load limit", Musk wrote on Twitter.

Few details have been released about NROL-76, a satellite designed, built and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office, a member of the U.S. intelligence community of an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense.

"Launch and landing of the NRO spy satellite was good", he said after liftoff. Instead, the audience was treated to multiple views of the Falcon 9 first stage as it made its descent back to Earth.

For the past ten years the USA military have carried out space launches with United Launch Alliance which is a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, a monopoly Musk has battled for years to break.

SpaceX now holds two launch contracts with the Air Force.

SpaceX maybe opening a new flow of top-secret government mission.

Musk is leading an effort in the rocket industry to re-use costly parts rather than jettison them into the ocean after each launch. Beginning in the late 1970s, LC-39A was then modified to support Space Shuttle launches, hosting the first and last shuttle missions to orbit in 1981 and 2011, respectively.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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