On Wednesday afternoon, SpaceX launched its first mission from Vandenberg for 2022, carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Clear west coast launch with RTLS landing to follow
Things are a little different for SpaceX when it launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base rather than the east coast. While the pad is very similar to SLC-40 before it was rebuilt, it also houses LZ-4. Making for an almost proper RTLS landing just over 1,300 feet away, rather than several miles like in Florida.
SpaceX’s brand new Falcon 9 booster, B1071, lifted off with the classified NROL-87 payload at 3:27 p.m. EST and took a flight path south, down the coast of California. Similar to what happened Monday for SpaceX’s CSG-2 mission, when the first stage shut down, it began to flip and relight one of its engines to start flying back toward its launch site.
B1071 successfully touched down on LZ-4 (no, there isn’t an LZ-3 yet, yes, it’s confusing) for the first RTLS landing at Vandenberg in over a year. Shortly after landing, SpaceX concluded the livestream, similar to what is has done for previous classified payloads.
Photos of SpaceX’s NROL-87 launch
The combination of having the launch and landing site so close to each other makes for some great photos. Other than possible future Starship launches, Vandenberg is the only place you capture both these events in the same frame.
We don’t know when SpaceX will launch from the west coast the next time. Now that polar orbits are possible from either coast, it will come down to mission scheduling for which coast makes the most sense.
The east coast will remain busy. Between the crew, cargo, Starlink, and other commercial missions, SpaceX’s manifest is filled with a possible 40+ launches year. Including the possibility of several Falcon Heavy missions in the mix.