Gwen Shotwell: “We’re glad they saw the technology’s benefits.”
The US Space Force announced on September 25 that the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch for the first time next year a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite with a former main booster.
The company reached an agreement earlier this month with the Space and Missile Systems Center so that SpaceX could launch two GPS satellites next year using previously launched enhancements. SMC said this would save the government more than $ 52 million in launch costs.
Although SpaceX routinely restores and reuses rocket hardware for its commercial and NASA launches, the US military only recently started allowing SpaceX to take back reinforcements in GPS missions. On June 30, the company launched and restored the third car from the GPS 3 constellation with a brand new Falcon 9 booster.
The fourth GPS 3 vehicle, scheduled to launch on September 29 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, will fly on the new Falcon 9 aircraft that SpaceX will attempt to retrieve. To launch the fifth and sixth GPS vehicles next year, SpaceX will use aerial reinforcements previously.
“I am delighted to welcome SpaceX’s innovative reuse in the space launch program for national security,” Lieutenant General John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, said in a statement.
During a call with reporters on September 25, Walt Lauderdale, head of Falcon’s Systems and Operations division at SMC, said contract modifications for upcoming GPS 3 missions would save the government $ 52.7 million.
“We appreciate the effort that the US Space Force invested in the assessment and are pleased that they see the benefits of the technology,” said Gwen Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, in a statement.
SpaceX’s current contract to launch 3 GPS satellites after Spacecraft 6 expires. Lockheed Martin is producing four more satellites (7-10) but launches have yet to be awarded. Lauderdale said these missions will be awarded under the second phase of the National Security Space Launch Program. The United Launch Alliance and SpaceX will compete head-to-head in all Phase 2 missions.
SMC had planned to start flying payloads on previously flown Falcon 9s in Phase 2 but decided to start early with the existing GPS nodes.
“This will qualify us for our partnership with SpaceX for the second phase over the next year,” said Lauderdale.
To allow the use of reused boosters and obtain cost savings, SMC delayed the launch of GPS 3 5th from January to July 2021 to allow time to validate the design and “make sure we understand how SpaceX refurbished devices that were previously relocated,” Lauderdale said. “This gets us to start before the second stage. We will start now.”