Our Bureau
10:10 AM, January 8, 2018
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Two streaks in this long exposure photo show the Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral’s pad 40, and then its first stage returning to Earth at a nearby landing pad. Credit: SpaceX

US space transport services company SpaceX launched a super-secretive US government payload into orbit from its Falcon 9 rocket in the early hours of January 8.

The Falcon lifted off at 8 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As the first-stage of the Falcon returned to Earth for an upright landing, the upper stage lofted the mysterious Zuma, presumed to be a spy satellite or military communications satellite, into an undisclosed orbit.

“The Zuma spacecraft will launch on Falcon 9, a two-stage rocket designed from the ground up by SpaceX for maximum reliability and the cost-efficient transport of satellites and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft,” the company explained in the press release.

According to space.com, the booster's two stages separated 2 minutes and 19 seconds into flight. The second stage continued carrying the mysterious Zuma to its destination in low-Earth orbit (LEO), while the first stage began maneuvering its way back to terra firma for a touchdown at Landing Zone 1, a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral.

The purpose and orbital target of the Zuma mission were not disclosed in advance of Sunday night’s launch. SpaceX originally intended to launch the Zuma mission in mid-November, but officials grounded the rocket to review the readiness of the nose fairing that covered the payload during the first few minutes of the mission.

Sunday’s launch extended SpaceX’s streak of successful missions to 19 in a row, dating back to a rocket explosion at Cape Canaveral in 2016 that destroyed an Israeli-owned commercial communications satellite.

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