Falcon 9 kicks off Cape's 2018 launch season

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying top secret cargo blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8 p.m. EST Sunday.

Early phases of the flight appeared normal. Due to the classified nature of the payload, called ZUMA, SpaceX stopped providing updates on the mission after the rocket's nose cone separated about three minutes into flight.

Nearly eight minutes after launch the Falcon 9's first stage returned to the Cape, making a perfect touchdown at Landing Zone One.

Little is known about the ZUMA payload, other than its launch was procured for the U.S. government by Northrop Grumman, and that the satellite was destined for low Earth orbit.

For SpaceX, the way is now cleared for their Florida-based launch team to concentrate solely on getting the new Falcon Heavy rocket ready for its first flight.

The monster rocket recently was erected at Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A for fit checks. Next step is for a static test fire of the rocket's 27 main engines.

If that process goes well, Elon Musk has indicated his hopes to launch the Falcon Heavy before the end of January.

In the meantime, the next launch from the Cape is now expected to be a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 carrying a military communications satellite.That launch is targeted for Thursday, January 18, between 7:40 and 8:20 p.m. EST.

-- Jim Banke


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