SpaceX ends a busy 2020 launch manifest with a United States national security mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The final mission of the year launched a classified government payload to space atop a Falcon 9 rocket today. At 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time, a four-times-flown Falcon 9 booster lifted off for the fifth time from Launch Complex-39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff marked SpaceX's 26 launch this year –the most annual launches the company has performed in history. What this mission deployed to orbit is a mysterious payload called NROL-108.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/AG4rAR6qNp— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 19, 2020
The previously flown booster, identified as B1059, previously supported launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station for NASA, a Starlink mission, and the Argentinian SAOCOM 1B mission. Approximately nine minutes after propelling NROL-108 to orbit, Falcon 9’s first-stage booster returned from space for the fifth time, it landed on Landing Zone-1 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 9-miles South of Launch Pad 39A. B1059’s landing marked the company’s 70 successful landing of an orbital-class rocket. Recovering Falcon 9 first-stage boosters enables SpaceX to reduce the cost of spaceflight by reusing the booster on future missions. SpaceX officials shared they aim to reuse the rocket boosters at least ten times with little refurbishment in between each flight and boldly state the Falcon 9 can potentially be reused one hundred times! So far, the company has reused two particular boosters seven times.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on Landing Zone 1 pic.twitter.com/mR18Qv3GoC— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 19, 2020
The NROL-108’s payload deployment was not broadcasted Live by SpaceX, due to the national security nature of the mission. The U.S. intelligence agency rarely provides details about its payloads, however, agency representatives released the NROL-108 mission patch design on Tuesday. The patch features a gorilla beating its chest alongside a text that reads, “Peace Through Strength” (pictured below). “Gorillas are peaceful animals but can be fierce when necessary. Like the gorilla, our NROL-108 mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO's commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, and allies.[…],” the agency announced on December 14 via Twitter. Perhaps, the secretive NROL-108 payload SpaceX launched this morning could be a spy satellite that gathers a variety of data to protect the country. “The NRO has been the nation's eyes and ears in space for almost six decades–developing, launching and operating sophisticated overhead reconnaissance systems to meet the national security needs of the nation,” the agency states. You can watch the NROL-108 rocket launch in the video below, courtesy of SpaceX.
Have you seen our #NROL108 mission patch? Gorillas are peaceful animals but can be fierce when necessary. Like the gorilla, our #NROL108 mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO's commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, & allies. pic.twitter.com/X57bv7ZtSB— NRO (@NatReconOfc) December 19, 2020
WATCH THE NROL-108 MISSION!
Featured Image Source: NRO via Twitter
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.