SpaceX launches NRO payloads, a Predawn Easter flight at the West Coast

NROL-85 is the first NRO mission to fly and land on a used rocket.


SpaceX Falcon rocket launches the classified NROL-85 (Credit; SpaceX)

SpaceX launched a military satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and landed the returning rocket back to the Landing site today (April 17), lit the Easter Sunday Morning.

A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket carrying the NROL-85 spacecraft lifted off from the Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The instant launch window is at 06:13 PT, or 13:13 UTC (09:13 EDT).

The military satellite is to be placed in an orbit of 1,220.8 km x 1,024.2 km, with the orbital inclination of 63.535°



The Falcon9 staging occurs at T + 2.5 minutes later. The first stage headed back to Earth, making a vertical touchdown at Vandenberg's Landing Zone 4 roughly eight minutes after launch. SpaceX ended its live webcast of the launch just after the Falcon 9 landing at the NRO's request due to the mission's classified nature.

"It also marks our 114th overall successful recovery of a first-stage booster," John Insprucker, SpaceX's principal integration engineer, said after the landing.

SpaceX Falcon Booster Landed at Landing Zone-4 near to Launch Pad (Credit; SpaceX)

This NROL-85 mission marks the second flight of the 'booster' B1071, which previously flown for NROL-87 mission in February 2022. The support ship NRC Quest left Los Angeles to retrieve the rocket's fairings from the Pacific Ocean.


Some Predetermined NROL-85 orbit parameters:



Vandenberg Space Force Base is home to Space Launch Delta 30. SLD 30 manages the Department of Defense's space and missile tests and the placement of satellites into orbit off the US west coast. On September 27, 2021, The designation SLC-4E was applied at the time of conversion to launch Titans. The SLC-4E was leased as a launch site for the Falcon 9 rocket, which first flew from Vandenberg on September 29, 2013, after a 24-month refurbishment program that began in early 2011.


Of the NROL-85 mission, the National Reconnaissance Office announced: “For sixty years, the NRO has developed, acquired, launched and operated the satellites that are the foundation of the United States of America's advantage and strength in space. Using a diverse and resilient satellite architecture, the NRO collects and delivers the best intelligence, surveillance and space reconnaissance content on the planet. NRO data supports the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and other partners in the NRO's mission to produce intelligence products for the President, Congress, national policymakers, combatants and civilian users. NRO's hybrid overhead architecture, designed to provide global coverage against a wide range of intelligence requirements,


Launch, landing and deployment of the payload

All times are approximate



HH: MM /s: Event

00:01:12 Max Q (moment of maximum mechanical stress on the rocket)

00:02:16 Cut-off of 1st stage main engines (MECO)

00:02:20 1st and 2nd stages separated

00 :02:33 Stage 1 boostback burn begins

00:03:15 Head fairing release

00:03:21 Stage 1 boostback burn complete

00:06:15 1st stage reentry burn begins stage

00:06:36 1st stage re-entry burn completed

00:07:28 1st stage landing burn begins

00:08:00 1st stage lands in Landing Zone 4

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