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.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...