SpaceX launches secret government payload, brings rocket back home

Falcon 9

Facebook SpaceXSpace X's launch vehicle Falcon 9 at the NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida

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

The Falcon 9 rocket is set to blast-off at 8 p.m. ET from the company's launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

According to Space.com, the launch will involve a re-entry attempt by the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral's Landing Zone 1 - SpaceX has pulled off 20 such re-entries previously. Another launch attempt was set for January 4, but the bomb cyclone that brought heavy snow and winds to much of the East Coast last week further delayed the mysterious mission.

The first launch this year carried a special payload - Zuma, a secretive spacecraft commissioned by the US government for an undisclosed mission.

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Although we don't know what the Zuma payload is for, it does resemble two other missions in recent memory, and suggests this may be for an even more secret agency.

After a record 18 launches in 2017, this mission will be SpaceX's first flight of the new year.

The booster's two stages separated 2 minutes and 19 seconds into flight.

Defence contractor Northrop Grumman Corp was assigned to choose which company would launch the restricted payload, and it selected SpaceX's Falcon 9, calling it a cost effective option, said Lon Rains, a Northrop Grumman spokesman, before the launch.

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