AEROSPACE manufacturer SpaceX is set to make its first military launch on Sunday – with a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which makes and operates spy satellites for the United States.
The payload, which was first announced last year and is known only as NROL-76, is top secret.
Apart from the people who designed, built and work with the satellite, nobody knows any details about it.
Usually, NRO satellites monitor weapons proliferation in other countries and bomb damage, as well as terrorists, drug trafficking, and crime.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is poised to blast NROL-76 into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida during a two-hour launch window which opens at 7am local time on Sunday (12pm UK time).
About 10 minutes after launch, the tall portion of the rocket, known as the first stage, will power its engines and fly back toward Earth to make a controlled landing at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.
The attempt is part of SpaceX’s effort to make rocket parts recyclable – and the California-based company, headed by Elon Musk, has already made several successful landings on solid ground and on platforms floating in the ocean.
Until now, the US military has spent billions per year on launching government satellites exclusively with United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint operation of aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
But SpaceX in 2014 filed a lawsuit against the US Air Force, saying it unfairly awarded billions of dollars to a single company for national security launches.
Breaking ULA’s monopoly has pushed prices down for the US government – and SpaceX also has a pair of launch contracts coming up for the Air Force to send GPS satellites into orbit.
Corey Keppler, a defence consultant and retired Air Force colonel who has worked at the NRO, told Wired: “SpaceX is the new guy on the block, and they’re giving them a chance to see if they can get the job done,”
If Sunday’s launch is postponed, it will be rescheduled to another launch window which opens on May 1.
Source: The Sun