Amid talks of changing world order, challenging the US hegemony over global powers, a classified satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office was launched into space from California.
According to reports, the NROL-85 satellite lifted off at 6:13 a.m. from Vandenberg Space Force Base aboard a two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was the first mission by the NRO to reuse a SpaceX rocket booster, Vandenberg said in a statement.
A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket separated about 2.5 minutes later. The first stage headed back to Earth, making a vertical touchdown at Vandenberg's Landing Zone 4 roughly eight minutes after launch in what may be the ultimate bunny hop on the Easter Sunday holiday. SpaceX ended its live webcast of the launch just after the Falcon 9 landing at the NRO's request due to the mission's classified nature.
This was the second landing for this particular booster, which also helped to loft the NROL-87 spacecraft, another NRO spy satellite, from Vandenberg on Feb. 2, the SpaceX mission said. Today's flight marked the first time that an NRO satellite has flown on a used rocket, NRO officials said.
“It also marks our 114th overall successful recovery of a first-stage booster,” John Insprucker, SpaceX's principal integration engineer, said after the landing.
The NRO described the NROL-85 satellite as a “critical national security payload designed, built, and operated by NRO.” Its launch was one of three awarded by the Air Force to SpaceX in 2019 for a combined fixed price of $297 million.
The NRO is the government agency in charge of developing, building, launching, and maintaining US satellites that provide intelligence data to senior policymakers, the intelligence community, and the Defense Department.