The SpaceX Falcon has been on 34 missions to this date but the last mission completed on May 1 delivered a US Classified Spy Satellite NROL-76 to the orbit for the US Department of Defense. SpaceX has been on trial for a really long time by the DoD to replace United Launch Alliance as the aviation support for the US government.
On the morning of Monday, the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 7.15 am, and just like any other SpaceX launch, this one was caught on video as well but for the first time, it was a live broadcast. The rocket launched a US military spy satellite, turned around for a touchdown at Landing Zone 1 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The video was cut short for a little after the launch as required by National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) standard practices. Despite the broadcast
Despite the broadcast cut off for a few seconds, the camera has managed to capture the fantastic launch and a spectacularly accurate landing. As the mission wheeled to the end, SpaceX lead mechanical design engineer John Federspiel announced, “And we have touchdown! The first stage has landed back at Landing Zone 1. Another good day for us at SpaceX. That is a beautiful sight to see.”
The Falcon 9 flight was originally planned for April 30th, but a mechanical issue caused another day’s delay just a minute before the launch was due. When the launch finally happened the next day, Elon Musk announced on Twitter that the wind speeds were to close to the maximum allowed for the Falcon 9 launch.
Launch and landing of the NRO spy satellite was good. Tough call, as high altitude wind shear was at 98.6% of the theoretical load limit. pic.twitter.com/nBzBMNdjBp
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 1, 2017
SpaceX is usually enthusiastic about the exhibit of the payload, but the secrecy of the US military mission did not allow that. After the first couple of minutes, the first stage had separated from the load and it was then that the live footage was discontinued. SpaceX does not usually recover the first stage booster as it requires too much fuel. According to the Coast Guard, the rocket was to fly in a Northeasterly trajectory.
The first stage booster was recovered successfully, and the fact that all other SpaceX landings in the past have been quite successful, explains why this one was aired live. This one was, without a doubt, the most flawless of all the previous landings.
The classified spy satellite mission was the first of SpaceX for the DoD but it certainly is not the last. The company has already secured two more AirForce contracts for new GPS satellites in the next two years. The head of US SpaceCommand, General John Raymond showed confidence in the reusable rockets saying, “I would be comfortable if we were to fly on a reused booster. They’ve proven they can do it.”
Watch the spectacular launch and landing of the Falcon 9: