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SpaceX launches fleet of US spy satellites;  How to see?

SpaceX launches fleet of US spy satellites; How to see?

SpaceX is set to launch another batch of US spy satellites this morning from Friday (28) to Saturday (29). A Falcon 9 rocket, carrying payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), will lift off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California during a two-hour window, at 12:14 p.m. (Brasilia time).

SpaceX will broadcast the launch live on its X (formerly Twitter) account, beginning about 10 minutes before liftoff. However, the company could terminate the transfer relatively early at the request of the NRO, which builds and operates America’s spy satellites.

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If all goes according to plan, the Falcon 9 will return to Earth 8 minutes after first stage liftoff, landing on an autonomous “Of Course I Still Love You” landing pad in the Pacific Ocean. According to SpaceX’s mission description, this will be the eighth launch and landing for this particular booster.

“Of course I still love you” platform with the Falcon 9 booster (Image: SpaceX)

Tonight’s mission, called NROL-186, will be the agency’s second commitment to building a new “distributed architecture.” The network will consist of “multiple small satellites designed for efficiency and resilience”. NRO wrote in the NROL-186 mission statement. This is a shift from the traditional U.S. spy satellite strategy, which has relied on larger, more capable spacecraft that are expensive and time-consuming to build and develop.

No specific details about the operations or capabilities of the NROL-186 satellites have been released, as the NRO releases little information about its spacecraft and operations. SpaceX also launched the first set of “distributed architectures” on the NROL-146 mission atop a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg on May 22 of this year.

Tonight’s launch will be the Falcon 9’s 66th mission of the year. Forty-seven of the rocket’s 65 launches in 2024 are dedicated to building SpaceX’s Starlink broadband megaconstellation into low Earth orbit.

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Publication details

  • Date and Time: The release is scheduled for June 29, with a two-hour window opening at 00:14 (Brasilia time).
  • Location: Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
  • Rocket: Hawk 9.
  • Live Streaming: SpaceX will stream the launch on its X account, starting about 10 minutes before liftoff. The broadcast will end early at the request of the NRO.