Watch SpaceX Launch and Land a Rocket in Final Mission of 2020
SpaceX concluded 2020 with a successful mission that used secret espionage devices in low-earth orbit.
The NROL-108 mission launched on Saturday, December 19, at 9:00 a.m. from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX deployed its Falcon 9 workhorse rocket for the trip and put a U.S. spy satellite into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.
It was SpaceX’s 26th mission of the year and set a new annual launch record for the company led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
SpaceX later released some cool footage (below) of the takeoff and landing, with the takeoff captured from a helicopter that was flying nearby.
Footage from a helicopter of the 26th and final launch of Falcon 9 in 2020 pic.twitter.com/Ol90RiJvcP
– SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 20, 2020
A little more than eight minutes later, long-range and viewing angle cameras recorded the return of the booster for the rocket’s first stage in a landing zone at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station near the launch site. This was the 70th booster landing for SpaceX.
The first stage of Falcon 9 landed in landing zone 1. Pic.twitter.com/mR18Qv3GoC
– SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 19, 2020
Since the payload contained surveillance equipment for intelligence purposes, few details were released about the launch on Saturday. It is not even clear whether the mission involved one or more satellites.
This marked the fifth launch for this particular Falcon 9 first stage booster. Previously, it supported the launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo supply missions to the International Space Station, as well as a Starlink mission and the SAOCOM 1B mission in late August that included a Earth observation satellite for Argentina was deployed.
Saturday’s flawless mission was further evidence of the reliability of the SpaceX reusable transportation system, which is designed to dramatically reduce the cost of access to space.
SpaceX’s busy year, with the spaceship Crew Dragon flying astronauts to the space station for the first time in two separate missions, is despite the myriad of challenges posed by the highly disruptive COVID-19 pandemic. While the virus affected a few international space missions this year, SpaceX managed to continue its work while adhering to security guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within its team and beyond.