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SpaceX completes first top-secret military mission

Elon Musk's rocket company successfully sends a new spy satellite into space and gives us a new look at its spectacular rocket landings.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching a spy satellite into orbit.

SpaceX

SpaceX on Monday launched its first spy satellite -- and nailed another rocket landing.

The press briefing for the NROL-76 mission (PDF) carried out early Monday morning is short on details about the payload sent to orbit, but NRO stands for National Reconnaissance Office, a surveillance arm of the US military.

While we might not know much about what exactly the Falcon 9 rocket was carrying into orbit, the launch and landing went off without any major issues. The launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida had initially been set for Sunday, but was delayed by one day due to a sensor problem.

After boosting the mysterious payload into space, the first stage of the rocket returned for a landing nearby at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station rather than on one of those nifty SpaceX drone ships at sea. The space company helmed by Elon Musk has conducted successful landings both at sea and ashore, but on-shore landings tend to require more fuel.

One cool new feature of this mission was a camera view that kept an eye on the first stage of the Falcon 9 from the ground the entire time. This provided some intriguing new looks at the different boosters that the rocket uses to navigate its way back to the ground. You can see what I mean by watching the launch and landing telecast above.

SpaceX lands, reconditions and reuses its rockets as part of its mission to reduce the cost of accessing space. The rocket used for this mission, however, was new. That could be because of the secretive and sensitive nature of the payload, and the fact that SpaceX has only successfully launched a used rocket once so far.

The company says it's planning to launch a handful more used rockets this year.

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