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Eric Berger - May 1, 2017 10:34 am UTC
Update: With no weather or technical issues during its second attempt on Monday morning, SpaceX successfully launched its first major national security payload. The Falcon 9's first stage then made a stunning reentry into Earth's atmosphere and safely returned to Landing Zone-1.
Original post: SpaceX got to within 52 seconds of launching its Falcon 9 rocket Sunday morning before a problem with a sensor on its first stage forced a 24-hour scrub. Now, the rocket company is ready to try a second time on Monday morning to launch its first major national security payload.
Not much is known about the National Reconnaissance Office's NROL-76 satellite, a classified payload, which will lift off into low-Earth orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch window on Monday opens at 7am ET (12pm UK) and lasts two hours. SpaceX is targeting 7:15am ET for launch, and the webcast should begin about 20 minutes prior to this time.
Weather conditions, aside from a few concerns about upper-level winds, are favorable. About 9 minutes after launch, SpaceX will attempt a first-stage landing along the coast, at its Landing Zone 1 site. This would be the company's fourth land-based return, the most recent of which was three months ago. It has been just over a month since SpaceX's last launch, but the company plans two more missions in May: the Inmarsat F4 satellite launch in a couple of weeks and its 11th resupply mission to the International Space Station at the end of the month.
The primary significance of today's launch for SpaceX is that it allows the company to crack into the lucrative national security launch market. In 2014, after perceiving that the US Air Force was unfairly favoring a competitor in the commercial launch industry, SpaceX sued the federal government. The premise of the lawsuit was that the Air Force had ordered 36 rocket cores from United Launch Alliance without considering SpaceX as a possible bidder for the launches.
The anti-competition lawsuit never moved forward, because the government and SpaceX negotiated a deal behind closed doors. Eventually, the Air Force put 14 of those missions up for bid and certified SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket as a potential provider of launch services for the military and national security agencies. This is the company's first launch since receiving that certification in 2015.
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