A new SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a classified spy satellite for the United States today (Feb. 2) and you’ll be able to watch it all live online.
The Falcon 9 rocket will launch the secret NROL-87 payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office from Space Launch Complex 4E at California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. Liftoff is set for 3:18 p.m. EST (12:18 PST, 2018 GMT).
“#NROL87 has a lot of ‘firsts’ for NRO,” NRO officials wrote in a Twitter update Tuesday (Feb. 1). “It’s our 1st launch of 2022, 1st rocket core to be reused in a future launch, & 1st Falcon 9 under the [National Security Space Launch] contract.” (SpaceX received a $316 million contract in 2020 for launches between 2022 and 2024 for the U.S. Space Force, including NRO flights.)
You can watch the launch on this page, courtesy of SpaceX, or directly from the company’s website. The webcast should begin about 15 minutes before liftoff.
SpaceX’s NROL-87 mission is the first of what could have been a doubleheader of rocket launches today for the Hawthorne, California-based company. A second Falcon 9 booster is currently awaiting its own launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida to carry 49 new Starlink internet satellites to orbit.
That mission was previously tentatively set to launch within hours of today’s NROL-87 mission, but SpaceX has since delayed it to no earlier than Thursday (Feb. 3) at 12:51 p.m. EST (1751 GMT). Both flights come on the heels of a spectacular sunset launch of an Italian Earth-observing satellite by SpaceX from Florida on Monday (Jan. 31).
Not much is known about NROL-87. It is a classified payload, as are most of the satellites operated by the NRO. NRO officials typically ask its launch providers to limit their live broadcasts of launches to only the few short minutes of liftoff.
SpaceX is, however, planning to recover the rocket’s first stage with a land-based touchdown at the company’s Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg. The booster will then be prepared for another flight in the future. The NROL-87 mission is SpaceX’s fifth launch of 2022.