The first mission in 2022 from Vandenberg military base in California was the launch of a secret shipment, which took place on 2 February at 11:18 p.m. Moscow time. SpaceX performed a mission classified as NROL-87, commissioned by the National Intelligence Agency.
In 2019, Spacex entered into a mission contract under the National Security Space Launch Programme, which was funded by the Ministry of Defence and launched in 1994, with no information available on the cargo that SpaceX delivered to orbit, but only known to travel around the Earth in polar orbit and 512 kilometres high. Also for reasons of secrecy, Maska stopped live transmission after Falcon 9 landed, without showing the separation of the cargo from the second stage.
Last year, we had to wait until June before we saw the whole new Falcon 9 just left the plant, and in 2022, the wait was much shorter.
The use of the new Falcon 9 is usually a request for launch contracts. In fact, in recent years, several companies and agencies have explicitly demanded that their cargo be transported on a carrier that has never been used before. However, thanks to the many successful SpaceX missions, they have demonstrated the high reliability of their launch vehicles, and requests for new launch vehicles are becoming less and less frequent. In 2021, of the 31 missions performed only twice, we saw Falcon 9 in their first flight.
Sometimes, however, the use of the new Socols is also linked to the lack of accessible Boosters. Although demand for the new first stages is now rare, restrictions on reuse are still in place. All Falcon 9, which supported several missions, flew between December and January and are in Florida, would be very difficult to maintain and transport to California on time.
In addition, NRO has already experimented with launching missions with reused first steps. When NROL-108 was launched in December 2020, SpaceX used Falcon 9, which had already flown four times before that mission. Therefore, a government agency has already agreed to bring into orbit cargo from a used launch vehicle. Unlike last year, in 2022, we can see much more new Falcon 9 because SpaceX is planning 52 flights.
The Falcon 9, which was used to launch NROL-87, will be shown again in flight on the next NRO launch. The booster managed to land safely on landing area 4 just over eight minutes after departure. This means that the load was light enough to return Falcon 9 directly to the ground.