SpaceX launches secretive Zuma mission

A SpaceX Falcon9 rocket blasts off the launch pad in Feb. 2015 carrying the NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft. The same type of rocket attempted to place a U.S. spy satellite in orbit on Sunday

SpaceX has confirmed that its rocket, and the undisclosed national security payload, are ready for launch, and weather conditions appear to be generally favorable.

United Launch Alliance, meanwhile, is close to starting its 2018 launch campaign with a pair of launches from two coasts.

Sunday temperatures will start out in the low 50s near the Cape Canaveral Air Force pad, with colder temperatures further inland.

SpaceX will then target a booster landing at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Landing Zone 1.

"The U.S. government asked the aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman to procure a launch vehicle, in this case the Falcon 9, for the Zuma launch", a company spokesperson said in November. This is SpaceX's third classified mission, and arguably its most secretive flight for the U.S. military. This makes sense given that the relatively low orbit would SpaceX to bring the Falcon 9 first stage in for a landing back on land, rather than a drone ship at sea. (SpaceX has had 17 consecutive successful landings, so they're getting pretty good at this). The company has successfully launched "Zuma", a mysterious government payload, into orbit from Cape Canaveral.

For Sunday night's launch time, the orbital tracks of those three spacecraft - Zuma, the NRO satellite and the ISS - were no longer closely aligned, suggesting the missions might not be related after all. Although a launch date has not been set, it is likely to occur in late January or early February.

SpaceX has scheduled a live feed of the launch on YouTube (we've embedded it below!) but you can also watch along on Space.com's webcast page. SpaceX's press kit offers no details about the mysterious satellite.

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