SpaceX successfully launched a spy satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on the morning of Sunday, April 17.
The NROL-85 mission launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 6:13 a.m. PT (9:13 a.m. ET).
The early stages of the flight were streamed live on SpaceX’s YouTube channel. While SpaceX normally shares footage of the satellite’s actual deployment, the secret nature of this mission meant that the broadcast ended before it was deployed.
However, the images include the Falcon 9 rocket launch over California:
We were also shown phase separation and the second-stage engine ignition, which happened about two and a half minutes into the flight:
About eight minutes after launch, the first stage booster made a perfect landing 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 booster from the first stage and the NRO’s fourth launch using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was also the first time an NRO satellite flew 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 director of the Office of Space Launch, said in a release: “All the launches are exciting, but this one, featuring our first-ever booster reuse, is a striking indication of how NRO builds innovation and resilience into everything we do.”
Davis added: “By repurposing the booster shows, we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible while delivering more value. It lowers our costs, reflecting our commitment to handling taxpayers’ money responsibly. This is a great example of how NRO works to be a leader in space management.”
Sunday’s launch was SpaceX’s 14th orbital mission of 2022, with the California-headquartered company increasingly likely beyond its own record of 31 launches set last year.