SpaceX launches military satellite, successfully lands Falcon 9 rocket

It was the first time the aerospace manufacturing company has launched a rocket for the USA military - carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which makes and operates spy satellites for the United States.

The customer for this launch is the National Reconnaissance Office - a US government agency that develops and maintains spy satellites.

The 23-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket took off at 7:15 a.m. ET from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The launch was originally scheduled for Sunday, April 30, but that attempt was scrubbed due to a sensor issue.

It was the first time SpaceX launched a NRO satellite.

Today was a good day for SpaceX, because not only was its Falcon 9 rocket at the center of a military launch - a longtime goal of Elon Musk's - but the entire mission went off without a hitch too.

The National Reconnaissance Office bought SpaceX's launch services via a contract with Ball Aerospace, a Colorado-based satellite and instrument builder. SpaceX was not permitted to provide any details or stream any footage of the payload.

SpaceX was selected to launch NROL-76 "after a competition", said the NRO spokeswoman.

SpaceX video shows the landing of the rocket booster right from stage separation to the landing zone, both from the ground and from the rocket itself. SpaceX and the NRO did not respond to requests for comment about that launch's payload.

The leftover booster - its job done - landed next door at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station several minutes after liftoff. Across the country, cheers erupted at SpaceX Mission Control at company headquarters in Hawthorne.

James Spellman Jr of the US Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Centre said: "Unlike commercial satellites, these satellites are not privately insured - a launch failure means the nation and its war fighters are without capability until a replacement is launched". In 2014, SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force in a dispute over an $11 billion contract awarded to ULA.

Musk battled for years to break the monopoly on the military's launch business held by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

  • Carolyn Briggs