SpaceX Launches Spy Satellite

Elon Musk’s SpaceX conducted a successful launch of a spy satellite on Sunday on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The launch was originally scheduled for last Friday but was delayed two times over the weekend.

The launch took place at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. Space Launch Delta 30 commander Colonel Rob Long issued a statement saying the launch placed critical equipment into orbit that will secure “vital intelligence data.”

Long also said the National Reconnaissance Office teamed with the Western Range to deliver a payload that will assist America’s “warfighters and decision-makers.” The Western Range is the launch facility of the U.S. Space Force also located at Vandenberg. Long added that the launch was the twentieth NRO mission from the Western Range since 1996 and he expressed his pride in the public-private partnership.

This weekend’s mission was the first NRO mission to reuse a SpaceX rocket booster system. The same SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket used Sunday was first launched as part of an NRO mission two months earlier.

After the launch on Sunday, the first stage of the Falcon 9 returned to land safely at a landing zone at Vandenberg. SpaceX integration engineer John Insprucker stated the vertical landing marked the “114th overall successful recovery of a first-stage booster.”

The official statement regarding the latest launch indicates the mission’s primary responsibilities include operating and maintaining the Western Range, protecting public safety, and providing quality and environmental mission control while conducting future civil and commercial launches.

The NRO is an official government agency that develops, builds, and operates spy satellites for use by the U.S. government. The data gathered by NRO is primarily used by the Department of Defense and 18 intelligence community agencies. The NRO has overseen the launch of 16 satellites over the last two years.

SpaceX has been a leader in space travel innovation since 2014. The company has provided private launches to assist the U.S. government with payload deliveries to orbit through a series of government contracts. The company renewed its contract last month to conduct launches assisting in crew transportation to and from the International Space Station through 2028. That contract is worth almost $3.5 billion.

This weekend’s launch was the 14th for SpaceX this year and second in just over a week. Another Falcon 9 launched the first-ever all-private crew on April 8 on a mission to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was scheduled to leave the ISS on Tuesday to be followed by an ocean splashdown on Wednesday.