January 19, 2020

Astro-Vid of the Week: Watch the Launch of NROL-76

A successful static fire test on Tuesday.

Credit: Space X

Ready for a Sunday morning rocket launch? We’ve got ‘em, as SpaceX is set to round out the month of April with the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center with NROL-76 for the National Reconnaissance Office.

The 120 minute launch window opens at 11:00 UT / 7:00 EDT, and the start of the window occurs just 20 minutes after local sunrise, assuring a spectacular post-dawn launch. This is SpaceX’s first classified payload for the U.S. government, meaning the tracking TLEs post launch are classified, though amateur satellite spotters are sure to be on the hunt. Most of the NROL payloads in the past were destined for elliptical Molniya type orbits, and NROL-76 is likely to be no different.

And word is that SpaceX will once again land the Falcon-9 1st stage back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station shortly after launch from the newly refurbished pad LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX conducted a successful static fire test of the Falcon-9′s Merlin engines on Tuesday April 25th ahead of Sunday’s launch:

SpaceX will also webcast the launch, both with a narrated and technical webcast on Sunday; watch this space (bad pun intended) as we’ll be dropping the webcast in when the time comes.

One thing we’ve noticed following satellites and space launches over the years: military payloads outnumber science missions three to one. So much for the erroneous belief that our military in the United States is somehow depleted or under-funded… for every Hubble looking out at the cosmos, three more unnamed space telescopes are looking back.

Sobering thoughts to consider, as NROL-76 takes to the skies on Sunday on its clandestine mission.

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