SpaceX launches classified payload for US

Pablo Tucker
May 13, 2017

The U.S. Defense Department has traditionally relied on United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, for its spy satellite launches.

SpaceX rocket yesterday blasted off with a U.S. government payload known only as NROL-76, marking the first military launch for the California-based aerospace company headed by billionaire Elon Musk. "Out of an abundance of caution, we have made a decision to scrub today's launch".

Previously, three first stage boosters successfully landed there after dispatching satellites into orbit.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Florida on Monday, carrying the company's first satellite for the U.S. military, and breaking a 10-year monopoly held by a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket carrying a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.

After a literal last-minute cancellation earlier this week, SpaceX successfully launched and landed a Falcon 9 rocket last night in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

"Launch and landing of the NRO spy satellite was good", said Musk. Falcon 9's simple two-stage configuration minimizes the number of separation events - and with nine first stage engines, it can safely complete its mission even in the event of an engine shutdown.

NROL-76 was originally scheduled to launch on Sunday, but was delayed due to an issue with a sensor on the first stage engine, according to SpaceX.

Live video of the launch showed the first and second stages of the rocket separating about two and a half minutes into the flight.

For years, the market for launching USA military payloads was dominated by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

"Tough call, as high altitude wind shear was at 98.6% of the theoretical load limit", Musk wrote on Twitter.

Monday's launch was the fifth of more than 20 flights planned by the California-based company for this year.

SpaceX in 2014 protested the US Air Force's practice of using only ULA, saying it unfairly awarded billions of dollars to a single company for national security launches.
SpaceX was selected to launch NROL-76 "after a competition", said the NRO spokesman.

Musk is also the founder and CEO of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA).

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