On Sunday, April 17, a previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket propelled a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), code-named NROL-85. NRO operates intelligence-gathering satellites designed to provide data to the United States Department of Defense for national security. NRO did not provide official details about what the NROL-85 payload is. Some satellite experts believe it is a pair of Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) satellites.
The booster that supported the mission is identified as B1071-2, it previously launched the NRO's NROL-87 mission in February. It lifted off a second time from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 6:13 a.m. PT on Sunday, carrying the NROL-85 payload to orbit. It is the first time NRO has reused a Falcon 9 first-stage booster core. SpaceX is the world's first aerospace company capable of reliably reusing orbital-class rocket boosters, which reduces the cost of spaceflight. "All launches are exciting, but this one, with our first-ever re-use 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."
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/b8ZCn4z61E— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 17, 2022
Approximately 8-minutes after liftoff, the first-stage booster touched down at Vandenberg's Landing Zone 4. It marks "our 114th overall successful recovery of a first-stage booster," said SpaceX's principal integration engineer John Insprucker as the booster successfully landed. To date, SpaceX has launched 152 missions and reused Falcon 9 boosters in its fleet 92 times. The most a particular booster has flown is 12 times. SpaceX founder and Chief Engineer Elon Musk shared a video of the flawless landing -"Smooth landing video," he captioned it (shown below).
SpaceX ended the Live broadcast of the NROL-85 mission after the booster landed and did not show any footage of the payload deployment due to the classified nature of the mission. "Launching a payload into orbit is the most dynamic aspect of the NRO's mission, but the work that happens behind the scenes-designing, building, and operating our architecture in space is no less critical to our mission of securing and expanding America's intelligence advantage," said NRO Director Dr. Chris Scolese in a press release. "I'm proud of the teamwork, skill, and determination that went into making this launch a success and ultimately to delivering critical information to our nation's policymakers, military, and Intelligence Community.”
Smooth landing video https://t.co/2K8Z80aB0u— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 17, 2022
In spite of the serious nature of classified missions, the NRO has fun with designing the mission patches. The NROL-85 mission patch is an adorable graphic of a cat looking at its reflection in a puddle of water and sees itself as a tiger, pictured below. The mission's slogan is - 'Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.' "Each launch patch tells a story. For NROL-85, 3 stars represent guidance, protection & allegiance. The tiger in the cat’s reflection demonstrates that while space can be challenging, a determined attitude helps NRO go Above and Beyond to protect our nation," said NRO representatives via Twitter.
Each launch patch tells a story. For #NROL85, 3 stars represent guidance, protection & allegiance. The tiger in the cat’s reflection demonstrates that while space can be challenging, a determined attitude helps NRO go #AboveandBeyond to protect our nation. #attitudeiseverything pic.twitter.com/lfS8XULZa7— NRO (@NatReconOfc) April 3, 2022
Featured Image Source: SpaceX