Video: SpaceX launches top-secret spy satellite, lands rocket booster

Sonic booms rattle Space Coast

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX launched a top-secret spy satellite Monday for the U.S. government.

The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket lifted off just after 7 a.m. from its NASA-leased pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It hoisted a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Several minutes into the flight, the first-stage booster touched down at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX strives to return most of its first-stage boosters for reuse.

The sky above Cape Canaveral was clear enough that the Falcon 9's boostback return burn could be seen from the ground below.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted a video to social media of the first-stage separation.

“Close-up of rocket stage separation, fast slip, boostback burn in a ring of fire and then landing burn,” Musk said on Instagram.

"It's another good day for us here at SpaceX," a company spokesman said.

Musk said going ahead with the satellite launch was a “tough call,” because of high winds.

This was the fourth SpaceX booster landing at Cape Canaveral. Six Falcon 9 boosters have been recovered after landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sonic booms, as usual, rattled the area around the launch site after the booster touched down.

For the first time last month, Spacex launched a previously "flight-proven" booster with an SES satellite and stuck the landing once again on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.

SpaceX said an issue with a first-stage sensor issue prompted officials to scrub Sunday's attempt. No other details about the issue were released.


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Despite the dry conditions and more than 100 brush fires burning around Florida, Kennedy Space Center officials said the area around the launch pad is managed year-round to prevent such fires.

The space center is located on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Florida Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior periodically do controlled burns on the property to help prevent brush fire conditions from forming.

After launch, SpaceX will attempt to land the Falcon 9's first stage back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Landing Zone 1.

The company said area residents might hear one or more sonic booms during the landing. Orlando residents reported hearing the thunderlike noise several minutes after the first successful land return in December 2015.

The ground landing of the 15-story booster will be the fourth, if it is successful. Six Falcon 9 boosters have been recovered after landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

For the first time last month, Spacex launched a previously "flight-proven" booster with an SES satellite and stuck the landing once again on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.

The first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is towed into Port Canaveral aboard the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You," before dawn Tuesday, April 4, 2017 in Port Canaveral, Fla.

It was a proud moment for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk that took more than 15 years to accomplish.

"It means you can fly and refly an orbital-class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket," Musk said after the mission's success. "This is going to be a huge evolution in space flight."

Musk wants to eventually reuse the payload fairings as well. After SES-10 launched on March 30 SpaceX guided the 13-meter tall fairings to a soft landing.

The two shells of the fairings create the nose cone of the rocket and measure 13-meter-tall and more than 5 meters wide. They cost several million dollars each, Musk has said.

Satellite manufacturer SES was the first to take advantage of the discount SpaceX offered for a preflown rocket.

Sunday's mission for NRO is one of the company's first scheduled for government agencies coming up.

SpaceX was recently awarded a $96.5 million U.S. Air Force contact to launch a national security satellite, the Global Positioning System III.

United Launch Alliance, a Boeing and Lockheed Martin joint venture, was previously the only company certified to launch national security space missions.

ULA also bid on the mission.

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