The Falcon 9 rocket boosting a classified payload into space today made a successful pinpoint landing back at Vandenberg Space Force Base’s Launch Complex-4 in Santa Barbara County within minutes of the launch.
Carrying undisclosed cargo for the National Reconnaissance Office, the SpaceX rocket — painted with the mountain goat logo of the reconnaissance office — blasted off at 12:27 p.m. from the base outside the city of Lompoc. Onboard cameras showed the NROL-87 mission launch, separation of first and second stages, and the rotation of the first stage as it began to drop to the base. As it fell, the Channel Islands, Point Conception, and the headlands along the coast were clearly defined beneath the vehicle’s grid fins.
The rocket sped past the sound barrier as it fell back to Earth, appearing to be a bright orange light in the sky and emitting a succession of sonic booms that reportedly shook buildings and rattled windows for several miles around. With its center engine firing to slow it down, the rocket made an upright landing 8:16 minutes after takeoff to cheers and applause at mission control at Vandenberg. SpaceX announced this was the first mission and landing for this rocket, which will be reused later this year.
To view the takeoff, flight, and landing, see the video here.