WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a U.S. National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite into orbit April 17 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
The payload, designated NROL-85, was the agency’s second mission of the year and the second orbital launch of 2022 from the Western Range.
The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East at 9:13 a.m. Eastern. After separation from the upper stage, the rocket’s first stage landed back at Landing Zone 4 about eight minutes after liftoff. This was the 114th booster successfully recovered by SpaceX.
NROL-85’s first stage previously flew NROL-87 in February. NROL-85 is the NRO’s first mission to reuse a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster. NROL-87 was the first NRO launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket intended to be reused for a future mission
At the request of the NRO, SpaceX did not show any images of the rocket’s upper stage and ended the webcast after the first stage landed.
SpaceX received a contract from the U.S. Air Force in February 2019 to launch NROL-85 and NROL-87. SpaceX had previously launched NRO satellites under commercial contracts.
The NRO builds and operates classified U.S. government surveillance and intelligence satellites. NROL-85 is the 61st mission launched by the agency since its existence was disclosed in 1996.
This was the 148th launch of the Falcon 9 and the rocket’s 14th mission of 2022.