Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Sunday launched a US spy satellite belonging to the National Reconnaissance Office onboard a Falcon 9 rocket in what is reflective of the company’s advancements in rocket technology.
The launch, taking place at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, saw the two-stage rocket lift off with the NRO’s classified NROL-85 satellite. As is the case with all NRO missions, the details are classified. The only detail provided by the office in a statement is that it carries “a national security payload designed, built and operated by NRO.”
This was not the first time SpaceX has launched a classified spy satellite, But despite the mysterious nature of the NROL-85, what is far more noteworthy is the rocket itself.
This particular Falcon 9 rocket was used before in February to launch NRO’s NROL-87 spy satellite. This, in itself, holds serious implications for the use of orbital rockets because it once again proves the worth of the Falcon 9s to be used on multiple missions.
In 2017, SpaceX managed to reuse a Falcon 9 rocket that had already been in space before, something that had never been done in the history of space travel.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/b8ZCn4z61E— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 17, 2022
While NASA’s space shuttles were reusable, the rockets used to get them into orbit were not. As such, the cost of rockets has remained a considerable expense for space travel. But Falcon 9 changed the game by being reusable.
Since 2017, SpaceX has re-flown Falcon 9 rockets several times, and has kept pushing the envelope further.
In 2021, a Falcon 9 was reused to fly astronauts to the International Space Station – the first time it had reused a rocket for a crewed mission. In fact, that mission also saw SpaceX reuse the spacecraft, the Dragon capsule named Endeavour, which had flown in 2020. Endeavour wasn’t entirely perfect in its second mission – notably, the toilets were broken.
The launching of NRO-85 is the first time a rocket was reused to launch a spy satellite. This shows the potential of this technology to advance the launching of everything from cargo to astronauts and even satellites – both civilian and governmental – with reusable rockets, significantly slashing costs.
It could also cut down on the issue of space debris, something that has been caused in part by used and discarded rockets.
However, SpaceX still has more milestones to achieve, including the goal Musk announced back in 2017 after that first historic launch: To launch a rocket twice in 24 hours.