SpaceX Launches Mysterious Spy Satellite For The NRO

SpaceX was able to successfully launch a new spy satellite early this morning for the National Reconnaissance Office. For those unfamiliar, the National Reconnaissance Office is an extremely secretive agency within the Defense Department. Liftoff for the mysterious payload, a spy satellite dubbed "gorilla," happened at 9 AM Saturday morning from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

The launch came after two days of delays due to technical issues. SpaceX was also successful in retrieving its Falcon 9 first stage with a successful landing on a pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Falcon 9 first stage rockets touching down on land are relatively rare. Typically the agency recovers its rockets using drone ships at sea. With less than two weeks left in 2020, the successful launch marks the 26th launch for SpaceX during a challenging year.

The successful launch today also marks the last launch of 2020 for SpaceX. SpaceX's first attempt to launch the satellite happened on Thursday. The launch was aborted automatically when sensors detected a pressure buildup inside the liquid oxygen tanks in the rocket's upper stage. The initial plan was to attempt to launch the rocket on Friday, but that was again postponed.

Exactly what the satellite aboard the rocket is supposed to do is a mystery. The United States government has offered no indication of the satellite's purpose. What is known is that the mission patch is an angry gorilla beating its chest along with the motto "Peace Through Strength."

The NRO did tweet that the NROL-108 mission would be constantly vigilant and ready to "defend its own." It said the launch demonstrated its commitment to protecting US warfighters, interests, and allies. The assumption is that the satellite is some sort of spy satellite used to conduct observations where needed.