A stunning new video from SpaceX captures what it’s like to watch a rocket launch from the air and then witness the booster return to Earth.
The video, captured by a flying SpaceX drone, shows the company’s launch of classified satellite NROL-87 for the US National Reconnaissance Office. The mission lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday, Feb. 2, from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
“Drone photo of today’s Falcon 9 launch and landing”, SpaceX wrote on Twitter Wednesday after launch. Falcon 9’s first-stage cameras captured its entire descent from space to landing.
The video view is amazing. With the drone’s camera hovering nearby, a brand new 230ft Falcon 9 rocket rumbles from its pad under the power of its nine first-stage Merlin engines. The rocket rises into a serene blue sky with the bright sun just off the screen.
The video then cuts to the landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, which happened about 8 minutes after the launch itself. Two sonic booms can be heard as the booster, now covered in soot from its launch into space and re-entry burn, comes in for a touchdown at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 4 in Vandenberg. The blue waters of the Pacific Ocean add a bit of natural beauty to the feat of space engineering.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, like the Falcon Heavy and the company’s new Starship vehicles, are designed to be reusable to reduce the cost of spaceflight. Wednesday’s NROL-87 launch was the second of three Falcon 9 launches that week by SpaceX.
The streak began Monday, Jan. 31, with SpaceX’s launch of the second-generation Cosmo-SkyMed FM2 (CSG-2) Earth observation satellite for the Italian Space Agency and the Italian Ministry of Defense. This was followed by the launch of NROL-87 on Wednesday, which itself was followed by SpaceX’s launch of 49 new Starlink internet satellites on Thursday (February 3).
Unlike NROL-87, the CSG-2 and Starlink missions were launched from different SpaceX pads in Florida. The company used its Space Launch Complex 40 pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station to launch the CSG-2 satellite and its nearby Pad 39A site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center – the same it uses for astronaut launches. – to launch the Starlink mission.