SpaceX successfully launched a spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on the morning of Sunday, April 17.
The NROL-85 mission launched from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 6:13 a.m. PT (9:13 a.m. ET).
The early stages of the flight were livestreamed on SpaceX’s YouTube channel. While SpaceX usually shares footage of the actual satellite deployment, the classified nature of this mission meant the broadcast ended before deployment.
However, the footage included the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket over California …
We also got to see stage separation and the ignition of the second stage engine, which happened about two-and-a-half minutes into the flight …
About eight minutes after launch, the first-stage booster made a perfect touchdown back at Vandenberg Space Force Base, paving the way for another mission using the same booster.
The mission marked the 114th successful recovery of a Falcon 9 first-stage booster, and the NRO’s fourth launch using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was also the first time for an NRO satellite to fly on a used rocket after the Falcon 9 booster previously supported the NROL-87 mission in February 2022.
Commenting on Sunday’s launch, Colonel Chad Davis, NRO’s director of the Office of Space Launch, said in a release: “All launches are exciting, but this one, with our first-ever re-use of a booster, is a striking indication of how NRO is building innovation and resiliency into everything we do.”
Davis added: “Reusing the booster shows we are continuing to push the boundaries of what’s possible while delivering greater value. It reduces our costs, which reflects our commitment to using taxpayer dollars responsibly. This is a great example of how the NRO is working to be a leader in space stewardship.”
Sunday’s launch was SpaceX’s 14th orbital mission of 2022, with the California-headquartered company looking increasingly likely to coast past its own record of 31 launches achieved last year.