KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A classified surveillance for the nation’s spymasters is set for blastoff shortly after sunrise on Sunday, Apr. 30 by SpaceX in a space first by the firm founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk that also features a ground landing attempt by the booster. Update: Scrub reset to May 1
Liftoff of the still mysterious NROL-76 classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO, is slated Sunday morning, April 30 from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Falcon 9 rocket and NROL-76 payload have been mated and rolled about a quarter mile up the ramp at pad 39A.
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The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9/NROL-76 were raised erect this morning, Saturday, April 29 and are poised for liftoff and undergoing final prelaunch preparations.
The breakfast time launch window on Sunday, April 30 opens at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT). It extends for two hours until 9.a.m. EDT.
The exact time of the spy satellite launch within the two hour window is classified at less than T Minus one day.
Spectators have been gathering from across the globe to witness the exciting launch and landing and area hotels are filling up.
A brand new Falcon 9 is being used for the launch unlike the recycled rocket utilized for the prior launch of the SES-10 mission involving history’s first reflown orbit class booster.
As is typical for NRO missions, nothing is publicly known about the satellite nor has the NRO released any details about this mission in support of national security other than the launch window.
We also know that this is the first launch of a spy satellite for the US governments super secret NRO spy agency by SpaceX and a source of pride for Musk and all SpaceX employees.
However you can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 20 minutes prior to the 7:00 am EDT opening of the window.
Watch the SpaceX broadcast live at: SpaceX.com/webcast
As is customary for all national security launches live coverage of the launch will cease approximately five minutes after liftoff as the secret payload makes it way to orbit.
However, SpaceX will continue their live webcast with complete coverage of the ground landing attempt back at the Cape which is a secondary objective of the launch.
Everything is on track for Sunday’s launch of the 229 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 on the NRO launch of NROL-76.
And the weather looks promising at this time.
Sunday’s weather outlook is currently forecasting an 80% chance of favorable conditions at launch time. The concerns are for cumulus clouds according to Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.
In case of a scrub for any reason on April 30, the backup launch opportunity Monday, May 1.
The path to launch was paved following a successful static hotfire test of the first stage booster on pad 39A which took place shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, as I reported here.
Until now launch competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA) and its predecessors have held a virtual monoploy on the US military’s most critical satellite launches.
The last first stage booster during the SES-10 launch of the first recycled rocket landed on a droneship barge at sea last month.
SpaceX will also attempt to achieve the secondary mission goal of landing the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 39A.
This counts as the fourth time SpaceX will attempt a dramatic land landing potentially visible to hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists.
NROL-76 will be the fifth SpaceX launch of 2017.
Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.