Sunset launch sends classified spy satellite to space; next crewed launch slides a day

A classified spy satellite launch lit up the evening sky along Florida’s Space Coast Friday, the first of two possible launches this weekend. 

The NROL-101 mission, carrying a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:32 p.m., just minutes after the sun dipped below the horizon. The Atlas V rocket climbed back into the sun’s rays, its exhaust plume leaving a colorful arc through the pastel twilight sky. 

As usual on classified missions, launch contractor United Launch Alliance did not comment on the nature of the mission, other than to confirm that the launch was a success. A U.S. Space Force spokesperson described the satellite only as "designed, built and operated by the NRO in support of its overhead reconnaissance mission."

The state’s east coast beaches were crowded with tourists to witness the sunset launch, but not nearly as crowded as they’ll likely be on Sunday when SpaceX plans to launch its second crewed mission.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists are expected to watch four astronauts ride to space aboard a Dragon capsule, scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center at 7:27 p.m.

The Crew-1 launch was delayed from Saturday evening due to lingering weather from Tropical Storm Eta, which soaked the state this week.