Falcon Heavy's first commercial launch to pave the way for reusable rockets in national security missions

SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launches US surveillance satellites

SpaceX successfully launches US Surveillance satellites with a classified payload code-named to be “NROL-85”. Earlier scheduled to be launched on April 15th, the launch was delayed to April 17th at 6:13 AM PT. It was a successful launch, from space launch complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Falcon Heavy's first commercial launch to pave the way for reusable rockets in national security missions
Image credits- Space News

The Falcon 9 first-stage booster that will launch the NROL-85 mission is identified as B1071-2. It previously launched the NROL-87 mission in February. Soon after deploying the payload to orbit, SpaceX aims to recover the booster a third time to reuse on a future mission by landing it on Landing Zone 4. SpaceX will Livestream the mission around 15-minutes before liftoff in the YouTube video link below.

NRO operates surveillance satellites designed to provide intelligence data to the United States Department of Defense (DoD), senior policymakers, as well as other members of the intelligence community. The NRO does not release public details about the mysterious payloads it deploys. Dutch archaeologist and satellite expert Marco Langbroek believes the NROL-85 mission is carrying the next pair of Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) satellites, code-name INTRUDER. NOSS satellites are operated by the U.S. Navy.

NRO mission

All the NRO officially shared is the NROL-85 mission patch which is a cute graphic of a cat looking at its reflection in a puddle of water and seeing itself as a tiger, pictured below. The mission’s slogan is – ‘Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.’ “Each launch patch tells a story. For NROL-85, 3 stars represent guidance, protection & allegiance. The tiger in the cat’s reflection demonstrates that while space can be challenging, a determined attitude helps NRO go Above and Beyond to protect our nation,” said NRO representatives via Twitter.

At the request of the NRO, SpaceX did not show any images of the rocket’s upper stage and ended the webcast after the first stage landed. SpaceX received a contract from the U.S. Air Force in February 2019 to launch NROL-85 and NROL-87. SpaceX had previously launched NRO satellites under commercial contracts. The NRO builds and operates classified U.S. government surveillance and intelligence satellites. NROL-85 is the 61st mission launched by the agency since its existence was disclosed in 1996. This was the 148th launch of the Falcon 9 and the rocket’s 14th mission of 2022. The payload, designated NROL-85, was the agency’s second mission of the year and the second orbital launch of 2022 from the Western Range. The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East at 9:13 a.m. Eastern. After separation from the upper stage, the rocket’s first stage landed back at Landing Zone 4  about eight minutes after liftoff. This was the 114th booster successfully recovered by SpaceX.