SpaceX won’t be able to blame its drone ship at least. With the private space company back in the swing of things, launches are coming in fast and furious. We’ll see the next launch play out on
April 16th (UPDATE: Launch is now set for no earlier than April 30th). But it won’t be exactly like other SpaceX launches.
This month’s customer is the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Yep, SpaceX is launching a spy satellite into orbit.
Just after dawn on Easter Sunday, a Falcon 9 rocket will once more roar to life as it overcomes the pesky forces of gravity to get the payload attached to the top into orbit. The initial launch will look like every other one. Most of us will be watching at home as the rocket takes off. But the next few minutes won’t be like most SpaceX launches.
First, the landing. SpaceX made history a few days ago when it successfully launched a rocket for the second time and nailed the landing. Too bad we all missed the landing. The live feed cut out for a few precious seconds only to return with the rocket just standing there. You’re not fooling me Space!
Kidding aside, video feeds won’t be a problem later this month.
SpaceX is bringing the first stage of the Falcon 9 back to Cape Canaveral for a LZ-1 landing. That’s according to NASA SpaceFlight’s Chris Gebhardt.
We’ve already seen one daytime landing back at LZ-1, and it was a stunner.
It could look even more dramatic just after dawn. Right now, the launch window is set between 7:00 and 9:30 am ET. That could move around as we get closer to launch, and I’ll update this post if it does.
Second, the minutes after launch. In every other launch, SpaceX provides a live feed of the entire mission. We see everything from launch to payload deployment. That’s changing on April 16th. Post-launch footage will likely cut out right before payload fairing deployment. Or right after stage separation. The National Reconnaissance Office doesn’t want anyone getting a peek at their spy satellite.
That’s how it usually goes when ULA launches NRO satellites. You can watch this March 1 launch webcast from ULA showing the launch of NROL-79. The launch starts just before the 20-minute mark.
What will most likely happen is we see launch and then follow the first stage back to LZ-1. After landing, the webcast will probably wrap up.
Besides the payload designation, NROL-76, we don’t know much about the NRO satellite. Payload specs and its planned orbit aren’t known. The orbit mystery will probably be solved shortly after launch, but the NRO is keeping the payload specs hush-hush.
Two more launches are coming in quick succession after the April 16th launch. On April 30th, the Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite will lift off from Cape Canaveral. Two weeks after that, the CRS-11 mission to the International Space Station is slated to lift off from the same spot.