LOS ANGELES (AP) — A classified satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office was launched into space from California on Wednesday.
The NROL-87 satellite lifted off at 12:27 p.m. from Vandenberg Space Force Base aboard a two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The launch was webcast until the first stage completed its burn and separated from the second stage. Under NRO rules, coverage of the continuation of the flight to orbit ended at that point.
The Falcon's first stage flew back to the seaside base northwest of Los Angeles and landed so that it can be reused in a future NRO mission. Central coast residents were advised to expect sonic booms as the booster returned.
The NRO only described the NROL-87 satellite as a “national security payload.” Its launch was one of three awarded by the Air Force to SpaceX in 2019 for a combined fixed price of $297 million.
The NRO is the government agency in charge of developing, building, launching and maintaining U.S. satellites that provide intelligence data to senior policymakers, the intelligence community and the Defense Department.
The office plans more than a half-dozen launches this year to place nearly a dozen payloads into orbit.
There were two NRO launches last year, NROL-82 from Vandenberg and NROL-111 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.