SpaceX successfully completed its NROL-108 mission on Saturday, December 19, the event was live streamed. The event saw a spy satellite sent to low-Earth orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in what is SpaceX's second mission for the agency.
The launch took place from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center, Florida at 9:00 a.m. EST (or 14:00 UTC). It was completed with Falcon 9’s first stage booster that "previously supported the launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, a Starlink mission, and the SAOCOM 1B mission," according to SpaceX's website. SpaceX also successfully landed Falcon 9’s first stage on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/AG4rAR6qNp— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 19, 2020
A third attempt at the mission
However, the mission was not without previous complications: it was aborted on Thursday, December 17, and rescheduled from Friday, December 18. It was aborted due to irregular sensor readings in the second-stage rocket and rescheduled to allow additional time for checkouts. The event now marks the last launch of 2020 according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Falcon 9 auto-abort called at T-1:53 due to a second stage sensor reading. Today’s launch window closes at 12:00 p.m. EST.— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 17, 2020
The NRO is responsible for the engineering and operations of the reconnaissance satellites of the U.S. federal government. As such, it provides satellite intelligence to several government agencies, including but not limited to signals intelligence (SIGINT) to the National Security Agency and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
It is considered one of the big five U.S. intelligence agencies and, according to a 1996 bipartisan commission report, has by far the largest budget of any of them.