The NROL-87 satellite lifted off from the base at 12.27pm local time on a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket. The launch was livestreamed, as is the practice with most launches, but only partly.
The livestream feed was cut shortly after the first stage of the rocket completed its burn and separated from the payload, in accordance with rules for the launch of defence-related satellites.
Given the sensitivity surrounding the capabilities of intelligence satellites, the mission briefing only described NROL-87 as a “national security payload,” without furnishing further details.
The satellite was launched on behalf of the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that oversees the development, construction, and launch of intelligence satellites for the US government. Intelligence data provided by NRO satellites play a key role in helping senior policy makers and officials in the Department of Defense (DOD) take important decisions.
The launch marks the first Falcon 9 launch under the $316 million contract signed in 2020 between SpaceX and the NRO for the launch of US Space Force satellites and NRO satellites between 2022 and 2024.
In 2021, the NRO had launched two other satellites, namely, the NROL-82 and the NROL-111 from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, respectively.
The NRO plans to follow up Wednesday’s launch with several other satellite launches in 2022, and reports suggest that the government agency has planned up to six more satellite launches for the remainder of the year.
The launch, which the NRO has described as “successful,” is also the Falcon 9’s fifth successful flight of 2022, something that Elon Musk‘s company will be looking to build on as it looks to consolidate its position as one of the top players in the private spaceflight industry.