SpaceX wraps up with the launch of graded NRO satellite Falcon 9 in 2020

A secret mission for the National Reconnaissance Office was initiated by SpaceX Falcon 9 on December 19. It was the 26th as well as the last launch of 2020 for the firm. At 9:00 a.m., the Falcon 9 containing the NROL-108 task took off. Eastern at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida from the Space Launch Complex 39. The initial stage of the Falcon 9 landed at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1 nearly eight minutes later, representing the corporation’s 70th operational retrieval of a first-stage booster. The flight was initially expected to occur on December 17 but was scrubbed less than two minutes before liftoff after engineers put a stop on the countdown. The company postponed the launch to assess a high-pressure sensor reading in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. It was SpaceX’s second NRO launch. The first was NROL-76, which flew from the same pad on a Falcon 9 in May 2017.

The NRO designs and runs surveillance satellites for the United States government. Project NROL-108, as well as final orbit, are classified. About eight minutes after the liftoff, SpaceX’s webcast finished then did not reveal the second phase. It performed its fifth flight with the Falcon 9 booster used for the NROL-108 mission. The last time it flew was on August 30 when the Argentine radar satellite Saocom was deployed from the Cape Canaveral.

Though NROL-108 is a United States government mission, it was a launch procured commercially and not part of the U.S. Global Defense Satellite Launch Program of the Space Force. In 2017, that was also the case for NROL-76. Within “delivery in orbit” arrangements, the NRO, as well as other government entities, purchase private satellite launches where the acquisition of a satellite is coupled with the launch service.

The NROL-108 project is an indication of the NRO exploiting the commercial licensing process, said Wayne Monteith, assistant administrator in charge of commercial space transportation at Federal Aviation Administration. “It’s a way to lower costs,” he stated during a simulated event at the Space Foundation on December 15. The NRO, too, has procured Rocket Lab commercial launches that are also approved by the FAA.

This flight represents the first launch on such a seasoned rocket by a paying passenger. Largely, on its own Starlink projects, SpaceX has allocated a first stage booster for over 3 flights under their belts. This may be a positive indication of firms believing the reusability aspect and becoming more familiar with any of these tried-and-true reinforcements. Also, it marks the initial time for a paid client which SpaceX is operating a recycled part of a cargo fairing. The organization also expanded its initiatives to use more of the rockets in reuse efforts. One of the defensive nose cone bits traveled on an Anasis-II flight in the summer on this specific mission.