NROL-108 (Falcon 9)
19 December 2020
Space Launch Complex 39A
Kennedy Space Center
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a classified payload on the NROL-108 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on 19 December 2020 at 9:00 a.m. from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Falcon 9’s first stage booster previously supported launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, the Starlink 8 mission, and the SAOCOM 1B mission. Following stage separation Falcon 9’s first stage landed on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is proud to partner with SpaceX on our second launch aboard a Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The NROL-108 mission will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and carry a national security payload designed, built and operated by the agency. NROL-108 supports NRO’s overall national security mission to provide intelligence data to the United States’ senior policy makers, the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is an Intelligence Community element and Department of Defense organization responsible for developing, acquiring, launching and operating America’s reconnaissance satellites, as well as operating associated data processing facilities in support of national security. Using NRO data, the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and other NRO mission partners produce intelligence products for the President, Congress, national policy makers, warfighters, and civil users. The NRO uses a variety of satellites to meet these mission needs—from small sats to more traditional, larger satellites. This approach allows the NRO to pursue a hybrid overhead architecture designed to provide global coverage against a wide range of intelligence requirements, carry out research and development efforts, and assist emergency and disaster relief efforts in the U.S. and around the world.

The rocket lifted off into cloudy skies and was only visible briefly before disappearing altogether behind the clouds.
Approximately eight minutes after the launch the Falcon 9's first stage landed at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. By the time the stage dropped out of the clouds it was already firing its engines for the landing burn.
The landing legs deploy seconds prior to landing.
A cloud of smoke signals the landing out of sight behind the trees.

About the NROL-108 mission patch from the NRO press release:

The NROL-108 mission patch shows a gorilla beating its chest in front of a green background with the tagline “Peace Through Strength”. The NRO chose this theme because gorillas are peaceful animals but can be fierce when necessary. Like the gorilla, this mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO’s commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, and allies.

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