The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on Feb. 2 launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., the NROL-87 reconnaissance mission–the first launch of the year for NRO and the first aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 reusable rocket under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program, NRO said on Feb. 2.
The agency said that the Feb. 2 mission was the 60th launch since NRO began disclosing such launches in December 1996.
“NROL-87 is the NRO’s first launch this year and follows eight launches and 16 payloads placed on orbit in the past 24 months,” NRO said on Feb. 2.
While NROL-87 marked the agency’s third launch from a Falcon 9, the mission was the first Falcon 9 from Vandenberg under NSSL, which is operated by the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command at Los Angeles AFB, Calif.
At Vandenberg, USSF’s Spece Force Delta 30, which manages DoD space and missile testing, supported the NROL-87 launch.
The NRO said that it has “more than a half-dozen launches scheduled and nearly a dozen payloads planned for orbit” this year.
The two-stage Falcon 9 generates “more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level,” and the second stage, powered by a Merlin vacuum engine by SpaceX, delivers Falcon 9 payloads to desired orbits, NRO said.
“The engine ignites a few seconds after stage separation and can be restarted several times to place multiple payloads into different orbits,” the agency said.