SpaceX launching spy satellites for U.S.; Falcon 9 first stage returns

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SpaceX on Saturday morning launched the company’s second spy satellite mission for the U.S. government.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 9 a.m. EST from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The payload fairing separated about 2 1/2 minutes after launch.

Meanwhile, the reusable Falcon 9 rocket landed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station about 8 1/2 minutes after liftoff – the fifth time for this particular booster and the 70th time for a Falcon 9 to date.

SpaceX called off an earlier launch attempt Thursday due to a slightly elevated pressure reading in a liquid oxygen tank on the rocket’s upper stage. The countdown was paused 1 minute and 53 seconds before launch.

Sunday, Andy Tran, an avionics production manager at SpaceX, said during a live broadcast Thursday that the rocket and payload were in good condition despite the abort.

Indeed, the first launch of a U.S. spy satellite, NROL-76, was in May 2017 for the National Reconnaissance Office, which is part of the Department of Defense. Most such missions in recent years have been conducted by United Launch Alliance.

But the government says very little about classified missions like Sunday’s launch, except that the rocket carries a “national security payload designed, built and operated by the agency … to provide intelligence data to senior U.S. policymakers, intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense.”

SpaceX’s live stream of Sunday’s launch did not include footage of the satellite’s deployment because it is classified.

The National Reconnaissance Office’s mission is to provide information for intelligence requirements, research and development, and emergency and disaster support.

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