SpaceX launched the NROL-108 mission carrying a classified spy satellite payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) abroad its Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket.
The rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida at 9:00 a.m. EST (14:00 UTC) on Friday, December 18. The launch was originally scheduled at 9:45 a.m. EST on Dec. 17 but was scrubbed due to an abnormal second stage sensor reading.
Falcon 9’s first stage booster that was be used for the launch previously supported launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS), a Starlink mission, and the SAOCOM 1B mission. Following stage separation and about eight minutes into the mission, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida instead of on a drone ship at sea.
This is the 26th and final launch by SpaceX this year and the second launch by the company for the U.S. spy satellite agency after the NROL-76 (USA 276) mission in May 2017. Today’s launch was Falcon 9’s 103rd launch overall.
Details of the covert payload that was launched during the mission was not released as with NRO’s other classified launches but the agency shared the mission patch featuring an angry gorilla beating his chest and motto “Peace Through Strength.”
“Gorillas are peaceful animals but can be fierce when necessary. Like the gorilla, our NROL-108 mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO’s commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, & allies”, said the NRO on Twitter.
Have you seen our #NROL108 mission patch? Gorillas are peaceful animals but can be fierce when necessary. Like the gorilla, our #NROL108 mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO's commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, & allies. pic.twitter.com/X57bv7ZtSB
— NRO (@NatReconOfc) December 19, 2020