A stunning new video from SpaceX captures what it's like to watch a rocket launch from mid-air and then witness the booster return to Earth.
The video, captured by a flying SpaceX drone, shows the company's launch of the classified NROL-87 satellite for the U.S. 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.
The video's view is amazing. With the drone camera hovering nearby, a brand-new 230-foot Falcon 9 rocket thunders off its pad under the power of its nine first-stage Merlin engines. The rocket soars into a serene, blue sky with the bright sun just off screen.
The video then transitions to the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage landing, which occurred 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 reentry burn, comes in for a touchdown at SpaceX's Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg. The blue waters of the Pacific Ocean add a bit of natural beauty to the space engineering feat.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, like the company's Falcon Heavy and new Starship vehicles, are designed to be reusable to lower the cost of spaceflight. The NROL-87 launch on Wednesday was the second of three Falcon 9 launches that week by SpaceX.
The streak began on Monday (Jan. 31) with SpaceX's launch of the Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation FM2 (CSG-2) Earth-observation satellite for the Italian Space Agency and the Italian Ministry of Defense. That was followed by the NROL-87 launch on Wednesday, which itself was followed by SpaceX's launch of 49 new Starlink internet satellites on Thursday (Feb. 3).
Unlike the NROL-87 flight, the CSG-2 and Starlink missions 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 one it uses for astronaut launches — to loft the Starlink mission.