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SpaceX launches spy satellite for US in first mission for Pentagon

SpaceX launched a top-secret spy satellite for the US Department of Defense on Monday.
India TV News Desk Washington May 01, 2017 20:03 IST
India TV News Desk

SpaceX launched a top-secret spy satellite for the US Department of Defense on Monday and then successfully landed the booster for recycling.

The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the classified NROL-76 satellite, lifted off at 7.15 a.m. from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the same pad that supported numerous Apollo and space shuttle launches, the company's live webcast showed.

It was SpaceX's first mission for the National Reconnaissance Office. No details were divulged about the newly launched NRO satellite. Instead, SpaceX focused its webcast on the successful touchdown of the first-stage booster.

Few details have been released about NROL-76, a satellite designed, built and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office under the Department of Defense.

The leftover booster — its job done — landed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station several minutes after liftoff. Sonic booms rattled the area, serving as a Monday morning wake-up call. Across the country, cheers erupted at SpaceX Mission Control at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX strives to return most of its boosters for reuse. The company's first recycled rocket flew last month.

This was the fourth SpaceX booster landing at Cape Canaveral; even more have landed on ocean platforms.

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said via Twitter that both the launch and landing were good. But the upper-level wind at liftoff was "unusually high."

"Tough call, as high altitude wind shear was at 98.6 percent of the theoretical load limit," he said in a tweet. Earlier in the morning, he noted about the wind, "Worrying, but not a showstopper."

Sunday's launch attempt was foiled at the last minute by a bad sensor.

This launch marks the SpaceX's first mission for the Pentagon.

For years, the market for launching US military payloads was dominated by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

But SpaceX broke the monopoly in 2015, when the US Air Force certified its Falcon 9 rocket to launch national security space missions.

Since then, the California-based company has also won two contracts to launch Global Positioning System satellites for the US Air Force.

(With agencies)