SpaceX delivered today to orbit top secret payload provided by National Reconnaissance Office. In flawless flight Falcon rocket managed to perform spectacular landing of the rocket’s first stage.
Launch was performed from Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A. It was first contracted launch for National Reconnaissance Office and SpaceX decided to finish it with landing attemptof the first stage. This landing is also important clue for determining what in fact was delivered today to orbit. Usually in case of GTO launches with extremely large satellites SpaceX resigns from landing of the first stage. It is necessary because first stage is burning all its fuel to reach orbit which is aas far away as possible. Today it was possible to perform landing what gives reason to assume, that payload was not extremely heavy (for such purposes NRO usually contracts Atlas V provided by United Launch Alliance) and probably it reached Low Earth Orbit. Also according to Space.com license given by Federal Aviation Administration’s for this launch covered reaching altitude of few hundred kilometers, what confirms earlier suppositions.
Launch preparations begun on Saturday when rocket was rolled out to Launch pad 39A for launch. In fact it was planned for Sunday, April 30. Unfortunately just before ignition at T-52″ at 11:24 UTC yesterday countdown was halted. According to SpaceX recycling countdown was caused by minor problems with one of the sensors installed in the first stage of the Falcon-9. Luckily specialists managed to find and deal with this issue and launch was set for 1st May, 11:15 UTC. According to NRO’s requestfull video broadcast was planned to be halted after first three minutes. In this way we missed reaching altitude when rocket usually jettisons payload fairing. Luckily key moments of the launch with first three minutes and moment of the landing of the first stage were broadcasted.
At 11:15 UTC long for 70 m Falcon-9 1.2V started to rise over Pad 39A. All nine Merlin engines were providing thrust of 7607 kN. After one minute rocket broke sound barrier and at T+2’30” first stage was already after cut off and separation. Second stage ignited its single Merlin engine and 30 seconds later payload fairing was jettisoned marking end of broadcast from second stage mission. First stage already performed flip maneuver and at 11:22 UTC performed reentry burn with three from nine engines. Two minutes later first stage of the Falcon-9 managed to touch ground inside of the Landing Zone 1.
At 11:39 UTC Elon Musk on his Twitter profile officially confirmed delivering payload to orbit and successful deployment. In this way first mission contracted by NRO to SpaceX became history.