Skip to main content

Watch the key moments from SpaceX’s spy satellite launch

SpaceX successfully launched a spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on the morning of Sunday, April 17.

The NROL-85 mission launched from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 6:13 a.m. PT (9:13 a.m. ET).

The early stages of the flight were livestreamed on SpaceX’s YouTube channel. While SpaceX usually shares footage of the actual satellite deployment, the classified nature of this mission meant the broadcast ended before deployment.

However, the footage included the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket over California:

NROL-85 Mission

We also got to see stage separation and the ignition of the second stage engine, which happened about two-and-a-half minutes into the flight:

NROL-85 Mission

About eight minutes after launch, the first-stage booster made a perfect touchdown back at Vandenberg Space Force Base, paving the way for another mission using the same booster.

NROL-85 Mission

The mission marked the 114th successful recovery of a Falcon 9 first-stage booster, and the NRO’s fourth launch using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was also the first time for an NRO satellite to fly on a used rocket after the Falcon 9 booster previously supported the NROL-87 mission in February 2022.

Commenting on Sunday’s launch, Col. Chad Davis, the NRO’s director of the Office of Space Launch, said in a release: “All launches are exciting, but this one, with our first-ever reuse of a booster, is a striking indication of how NRO is building innovation and resiliency into everything we do.”

Davis added: “Reusing the booster shows we are continuing to push the boundaries of what’s possible while delivering greater value. It reduces our costs, which reflects our commitment to using taxpayer dollars responsibly. This is a great example of how the NRO is working to be a leader in space stewardship.”

Sunday’s launch was SpaceX’s 14th orbital mission of 2022, with the California-headquartered company looking increasingly likely to coast past its own record of 31 launches achieved last year.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Will SpaceX’s failed Starship flight impact NASA’s moon plan?
Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon.

SpaceX’s Starship vehicle suffered what the spaceflight company called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” on Thursday. In other words, it blew up.

The good news is that the uncrewed rocket cleared the pad and flew for around four minutes before meeting its fiery end. It means the SpaceX team will have plenty of valuable data on the rocket's flight performance, enabling it to refine the rocket’s systems to give it an improved chance of completing the second test flight and sending the Starship to orbit.

Read more
SpaceX Starship rocket launches in first test flight, but explodes in midair
spacex starship launch explosion

SpaceX has launched its integrated Starship for the first time, with the spacecraft and rocket leaving the launchpad on a test flight. However, not everything went smoothly during the test, as the rocket exploded before the separation of the Starship spacecraft from the Super Heavy rocket booster.

The launch from SpaceX's Starbase facility at Boca Chica in Texas saw the Starship leave the launch pad at 9:33 a.m. ET, consisting of the integrated Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy Booster, which form the world's most powerful rocket. The combined Starship will be used for future missions to the moon and beyond, launched from a launch-and-catch tower standing at an impressive height of nearly 500 feet tall.

Read more
How to watch SpaceX launch record-breaking Starship rocket on Thursday
The Starship, comprising the first-stage Super Heavy and the upper-stage Starship spacecraft, on the launchpad at SpaceX's facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

Starship Flight Test

Update: SpaceX called off Monday's launch attempt due to a technical issue. It's now targeting Thursday, April 20. Full details below. 

Read more