Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launches top-secret spy satellite

SpaceX scrubbed a planned Sunday morning launch of a payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

"One clue about the payload is SpaceX's plan to recover the Falcon 9 first stage at Cape Canaveral, a manoeuvre that requires significant leftover fuel and is only possible on missions with lightweight satellites or launches into relatively low orbits", Stephen Clark at Spaceflight Now writes.

Chalk up another win for Elon Musk's SpaceX, which successfully launched a secret spy satellite for a US government agency early Monday.

Nine minutes after takeoff, the rocket's main section touched down on a landing pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just south of NASA's spaceport.

As John Federspiel, the MC for the livestream event, says after the successful touchdown, "Another good day for us at SpaceX". This would be the company's fourth land-based return, the most recent of which was three months ago.

Sonic booms rattled the area as the 23-storey rocket blasted off.

Though SpaceX sees rapid, reusable rockets as the key to driving down launch costs and opening up access to space, the Air Force is still exploring how the certification process will need to be adapted to use pre-flown hardware.

"Out of an abundance of caution we have chose to scrub today's launch", a SpaceX spokesman said, describing the issue as relating to the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted in a tweet that high-altitude winds during Monday's launch nearly exceeded the rocket's capability. Apparently the wind shear "was at 98.6% of the theoretical load limit".

But, SpaceX then filed a lawsuit against the U.S Air Force saying that it unfairly awarded staggering sums of money to a single aviation company for its national security launches.

"As a matter of policy and because of classification, NRO does not provide information about our contracts", a spokesman told AFP. It was broadcast today, covering the NROL-76 launch.

"This satellite was going to launch from Florida anyway", Space Florida's chief of strategic alliances Dale Ketcham said previously.

Space X has also won two more contracts from the US Air Force to send up Global Positioning System satellites in 2018 an 2019.

  • Carolyn Briggs