SpaceX launched a classified satellite early Sunday morning for the National Reconnaissance Office, using a flight-proven booster, marking the first time an NRO mission has flown on a reused rocket. The mission, NROL-85, was the NRO’s second launch this year.
The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on April 17 at 6:13 a.m. PT. The booster returned to the landing zone after delivering the payload to orbit.
“All launches are exciting, but this one, with our first-ever reuse of a booster, is a striking indication of how NRO is building innovation and resiliency into everything we do,” said Col. Chad Davis, NRO’s director of the Office of Space Launch. “Reusing the booster shows we are continuing to push the boundaries of what’s possible while delivering greater value. It reduces our costs, which reflects our commitment to using taxpayer dollars responsibly. This is a great example of how the NRO is working to be a leader in space stewardship.”
The rocket booster core used in the mission was first launched from Vandenberg two months ago on the NROL-97 mission. The U.S. Department of Defense only recently began using flight-proven boosters on SpaceX missions. The first instance was the GPS III launch in June 2021.
The NRO does not provide details about its national security satellites but said the mission will “strengthen NRO’s ability to provide a wide-range of timely intelligence information to national decision makers, warfighters, and intelligence analysts.”
The mission was procured through the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) contract, operated through the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC).