SpaceX successfully launched its first National Security Space payload from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Monday at 7:15 a.m. The 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., supported the launch of NROL-76, a classified National Reconnaissance Office mission, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. The launch marked the third use of the Autonomous Flight Safety System, and SpaceX recovered the first stage booster at Landing Zone 1 about nine minutes after liftoff, according to a company release. It was the fourth time the company has recovered a Falcon 9 booster, according to an Air Force press release. The timing of SpaceX’s first NSS launch had been unclear since the Sept. 1, 2016, explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket resulted in internal and external assessments of the Falcon 9 system. Some members of Congress had even called for the company’s NSS certification to be reconsidered. SpaceX has also won NSS mission contracts for the second and third satellites in the GPS III constellation, which are expected to launch in May 2018 and February 2019.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.