SpaceX’s spy satellite launch marks milestone

SpaceX launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket rises from its Florida launch pad. (NRO via Twitter)

SpaceX launched a top-secret satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office today, then brought its Falcon 9 booster back for a spectacular touchdown at its Florida landing zone.

The NROL-76 launch marks a milestone as the first SpaceX launch fully dedicated to a classified mission, and the first since the U.S. Air Force cleared the company to take on national security space projects in 2015. The only precedent came back in 2010, when SpaceX launched a couple of experimental nanosatellites for the NRO as secondary payloads on a NASA demonstration mission.

Today’s liftoff from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida officially ended United Launch Alliance’s monopoly on spy satellite launches.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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