SpaceX has been reusing its Falcon 9 rocket for many of its missions and launches. On Sunday, April 30, the rocket will once again journey into space.
This time though — unlike previous missions — the Elon Musk-owned company is not publicizing the launch. The agency decided to launch the rocket quietly primarily because this time, the Falcon 9 will carry a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO.
NRO's Satellite Launch
The NRO is tasked with creating intelligence or spy satellites for the United States. Come Sunday, SpaceX will launch the Falcon 9 with the spy satellite dubbed NROL-76, atop the rocket. The rocket will launch from Kennedy Space Center's historic launch pad 39A.
The launch window starts at 7 a.m. EDT on April 30, while a backup launch window will initiate at 7 a.m. on Monday, May 1.
Once the initial stages of the rocket disengage, SpaceX will try to land the first stage booster at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In March, the company became the first-ever to reuse an older first stage booster to send a commercial payload off to space. However, for this launch, a brand new booster would be used.
SpaceX has remained tight lipped about any details regarding the NRO launch. This could be because of the strict confidentiality clauses in such contracts. Usually, Hawthorne-based SpaceX is quite forthcoming in sharing the details of its launches. However, officials have maintained the secrecy regarding the payload that the Falcon 9 will carry for the NRO launch.
The agency did not confirm the time it would take to deploy the payload, as well as what orbit it would reach.
Previous SpaceX Launches For The NRO
It is quite possible that this is not the first time that the space agency is assisting NRO in launching an intelligence satellite. In December 2010, it was rumored that SpaceX launched a similar payload for the NRO as part of a NASA demo flight.
In 2015, SpaceX received certification to launch security satellites. Since then, the company has received two contracts from the U.S. Air Force to launch GPS satellites. This forced United Launch Alliance, a collaboration between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., to reassess things as it no longer held the monopoly for launching national security satellites.
The launch for NRO on April 30 would be immensely important for SpaceX. A successful lift-off without any glitches would prove that it can handle such launches with discretion. This would help SpaceX win the trust of intelligence agencies in the country.