SpaceX's first mission of 2018, carrying the secret US government payload "Zuma", successfully launched and landed in the early hours of this morning.
The Falcon 9 rocket slipped the surly bonds of Earth at 1am GMT, lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The reusable stage 1 of the rocket returned to the base's Landing Zone 1 just under 8 minutes later, while stage 2, containing Zuma, split off two minutes after launch to deliver the cargo to low Earth orbit.
SpaceX completed 18 missions last year and Zuma was meant to be the 19th until issues with the fairing (the nosecone which contained the payload) delayed the launch until 2018.
The event was livestreamed on SpaceX's website, but was cut at the moment the Northrop Grumman-designed Zuma left the rocket, in order to preserve the secrecy of the mission. While Zuma is under the auspices of the US government, the specific department is classified.
The company will now focus on launching the Falcon Heavy, the larger successor to the Falcon 9. For its first mission, the Heavy will be tasked with dropping a Tesla Roadster into orbit around the Sun to bring it closer to Mars, where it will play David Bowie's "Space Oddity". ®