SpaceX launches secret payload for NRO

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket boosted a classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload into orbit early Sunday after a foggy California launch, the company's 14th flight so far this year.

Mounted atop pad 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base northwest of Los Angeles,

The rocket's nine first-stage engines ignited with flames at 9:13 a.m. EDT (6:13 a.m. local time), producing up to 1.7 million pounds of thrust & pushing the vehicle away from its seaside firing stand

The first stage, making its second flight, took off on a southerly trajectory, boosting the upper stage and its NRO payload out of the dense lower atmosphere.

Two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, the stage fell away and the single engine powering the Falcon 9 second stage took over for the remainder of the ascent.

The reusable first stage, meanwhile, flipped around, restarted three engines to reverse course and flew itself back to Vandenberg, touching down at Landing Zone 4 about eight minutes after liftoff.

Landing marked SpaceX 114th successful booster recovery and its fifth in California.

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