SpaceX Falcon 9: NROL-87 Launch and Landing at Vandenberg SFB

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The NROL-87 mission was the first National Security Space Launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket under the NSSL contract. This was also the first NRO launch of the year. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) partnered with SpaceX for the first time to launch a spy satellite. Not much else is known about the payload except that it was designed and built by the NRO and will be operated as well by the agency.

This was the first rocket launch in 2022 from Vandenberg Space Force Base. Just as last year, an NRO mission kicked off the launch season for Vandenberg. In April 2021, the NRO launched NROL-82 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy.

SLC-4E

SpaceX launched the rocket from its West-Coast pad SLC-4E. This pad was originally used for Atlas and Titan rockets between 1963 and 2005. SpaceX leased the pad and launched the first rocket, a Falcon 9 on Sept. 29, 2013. This was also the first flight of booster B1071. There are a lot of firsts with this launch.

About 8 minutes after launch, the booster returned safely back to the LZ-4. LZ-4 is SpaceX’s landing zone near the launch pad. In 2015 SpaceX leased Launch Complex 4 West and later renamed it to Landing Zone 4 and landed the first booster there in 2018.

Mission Details

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5, Booster B1071
  • Mission: NROL-87 (Top Secret Payload)
  • Launch Date and Time (Scheduled): February 2, 2022 @ 12:27 p.m. PST.
  • Launch Location:Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E)
  • Landing Site: Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4)

Launch Patch

Launch Webcast

Launch Day & Gallery

It was  a beautiful day along the Santa Barbara County coastline. Only the roar of nine Merlin engines which propelled the payload into space interrupted the silence along the Lompoc coastline. The coastline here tends to have lots of fog which makes it hard to photograph launches. This time we had an amazing day and blue skies. My last attempts to capture a rocket here, was in September of 2021 for the Landsat 9 launch. The launch time slipt by nine minutes for a new launch time of 12:27 p.m. PST instead of the originally scheduled 12.18 p.m.PST. The returning booster created a double sonic boom as it successfully landed on LZ-4. It’s amazing when you first see the booster just falling out of the sky and then gently touching down on the spot at its designated landing zone. The marvel of modern engineering and technology. Who would have thought that we will ever re-use rockets like this? 

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