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SpaceX launches U.S. spy satellite; Falcon 9 first stage returns

SpaceX launches U.S. spy satellite; Falcon 9 first stage returns
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office from Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Saturday. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- SpaceX launched the company's second spy satellite mission for the U.S. government Saturday morning.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 9 a.m. EST from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The payload fairing separated about 2 1/2 minutes after liftoff.

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The reusable Falcon 9 rocket landed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station about 8 1/2 minutes after liftoff -- the fifth time for this particular booster and the 70th time for a Falcon 9 to date.

SpaceX aborted a previous launch attempt Thursday due to a slightly high pressure reading in an upper stage liquid oxygen tank on the rocket. The countdown stopped at 1 minute, 53 seconds before launch.

Andy Tran, a SpaceX avionics production supervisor, said during a live broadcast Thursday that the rocket and the payload were in good condition despite the abort.

The company's first launch of a U.S. spy satellite, NROL-76, was in May 2017 for the National Reconnaissance Office, which is part of the Department of Defense. Most such missions have been conducted in recent years by United Launch Alliance.

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The government says very little about classified missions such as the launch on Sunday, except that the rocket is carrying a "national security payload designed, built and operated by the agency ... to provide intelligence data to the United States' senior policymakers, intelligence agencies and the defense department."

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SpaceX's live stream of Sunday's launch didn't include footage of the satellite's deployment due to its classified nature.

The National Reconnaissance Office's mission is to provide information for intelligence requirements, research and development, and to assist in emergency and disaster relief.

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