SpaceX has reached a new milestone on May 1 by launching a top-secret satellite and then bringing back its Falcon 9 booster for a touchdown at Florida landing zone.
This satellite was launched for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which is a member of the US intelligence community and an agency of the United States Department of Defense.
SpaceX is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. Elon Musk is company's founder.
Falcon 9 - SpaceX rocket - was successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center, at 7.15 am on Monday. It carried classified intelligence mission of the USA. A day earlier, the first attempt was scrubbed due to sensor problems and SapceX opted not go for a forced launch.
This NROL-76 launch is a huge achievement for the SpaceX, as they have made a launch dedicated to a classified mission. This is also the first incident since the SpaceX got a clearance from US Air Force in 2015 to engage in national security space projects.
Alan Boyle of Geeks Wire said, "Today's liftoff from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida officially ended United Launch Alliance's monopoly on spy satellite launches."
United Launch Alliance is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security. It is based in Colorado.
"Blastoff had originally been scheduled for early Sunday, but the countdown had to be halted at last minute due to concerns about anomalous readings from a sensor on the Falcon 9's first stage. Out of an abundance of caution, we opted to hold the launch and replace that sensor in question," said John Federspiel, a SpaceX engineer, who served as a launch commentator.
Since this mission is classified, SpaceX and the NRO are prohibited from giving any details about the mission. For this reason, the live video coverage was cut minutes after the ascent of the rocket.
Speculations have been made by the experts regarding nature of this satellite. They said this payload can be a new type of spy spacecraft designed to collect the data from the lower orbit of the earth. In order to find out whether their speculation is correct, experts have planned to keep track of the orbital parameters of the satellite.
The feat marks the fourth touchdown for SpaceX's Falcon 9 boosters at the Landing Zone 1. This fourth touchdown comes in addition to 6 "at-sea landings". Future plans of SapceX include lowering the cost of orbital launches by reusing and refurbishing the boosters. The first such reuse was made last month.