Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launches top-secret spy satellite

Tareq Haddad

SpaceX has successfully launched a secretive spy satellite for the US government on Monday (1 May).

Elon Musk's commercial rocket company was due to attempt the launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida's Cape Canaveral on 30 April, but a sensor problem grounded the flight 52 seconds before take-off.

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However, attempting the launch 24 hours later, the NROL-76 payload was successfully released into orbit, in spite of Musk's concerns.

"Winds aloft are unusually high ([but] still within safety bounds)," he tweeted. "Worrying but not a showstopper."

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SpaceX also successfully accomplished one of its defining features by landing the stage-one booster rocket back to earth.

Other rocket launchers typically discard their boosters once they crash back to earth, but SpaceX's onboard computers safely landed the hardware on a 300ft platform in the Kennedy Space Center.

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The company sees reusable rockets as the key to driving down the costs of air travel.

Monday's launch was on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – the US intelligence department which develops and maintains spy satellites. The agency says it monitors potential threats against the US by warning of potential missile strikes, the development of nuclear weapons and tracking terrorists.

SpaceX normally divulges footage from the entirety of its missions, but the company curtailed the broadcast shortly after take-off.

In a statement, Betty Sapp, director of NRO, said: "Thanks to the SpaceX team for the great ride, and for the terrific teamwork and commitment they demonstrated throughout.

"They were an integral part of our government/industry team for this mission, and proved themselves to be a great partner."

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