SpaceX is set to conduct its first national security mission by sending a spy satellite into space for the National Reconnaissance Office under the US military. Called NROL-76, the payload is schedules to launch in the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral in Florida.
After the launch, SpaceX intends to land Falcon 9’s first stage, which is the 14-story tall core of the rocket, back at the Cape. This contains most of the rocket’s fuel and its main engines, The Verge reports. This will be the fourth time SpaceX attempts to land a Falcon 9 on the landing site.
The launch was originally supposed to be for Sunday, but the mission was postponed due to an issue with one of the first stage sensors. It is scheduled for 7:00 a.m., Eastern Time.
SpaceX made company history a few weeks ago, where the company flew one of its Falcon 9 rockets for the first time. The launch put a privately-owned Luxembourg company satellite into orbit. SpaceX was likewise able to get the first stage by landing it on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
This unusual launch of NROL-76 is one of the few NRO mission in the past 10 years that has not been completed by United Launch Alliance. ULA, run by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has had a monopoly on military missions to space for years. But in 2015, SpaceX got certification to launch military satellites after a rigorous review process with the US Air Force. Since then, the company has won two Air Force contracts that have been up for public bidding.
The NRO appears to have planned this launch with SpaceX in the past two or three years, though given the nature of the mission, there is little information to confirm. It is possible, however, that more NRO missions conducted by SpaceX could be in the works for the near future, Space News reports.