SpaceX launches first national security mission on reused commercial rocket – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 soars into the sky over Cape Canaveral Thursday with a GPS navigation satellite tv for pc. Credit score: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Images

A contemporary GPS navigation beacon destined to switch an almost 17-year-old satellite tv for pc rode into orbit from Cape Canaveral on prime of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Thursday, marking the primary time risk-averse U.S. army area officers have agreed to launch a nationwide safety mission on a reused industrial booster.

After a clean countdown, the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket lit its 9 Merlin predominant engines and rumbled off pad 40 at Cape Canaveral House Power Station at 12:09:35 p.m. EDT (1609:35 GMT) Thursday.

The 9 predominant engines fired for two-and-a-half minutes to propel the launcher past the velocity of sound and thru a skinny layer of excessive clouds. The Falcon 9 arced towards the northeast because it climbed into the stratosphere, then the booster stage indifferent to offer technique to the rocket’s second stage engine.

The booster, designated B1062 in SpaceX’s stock, beforehand launched and landed final November on a mission to hold the newest GPS satellite tv for pc to area. Making its second flight Thursday, the primary stage flipped orientation to fly tail first, deployed 4 titanium grid fins to supply extra aerodynamic stability, and started a hypersonic descent again into the ambiance.

An entry burn utilizing three of the booster engines arrange the rocket for a ultimate touchdown burn with the middle engine. 4 carbon fiber touchdown legs unfolded on the base of the rocket because it settled close to the bullseye on SpaceX’s soccer field-size drone ship “Simply Learn the Directions” parked within the Atlantic Ocean round 400 miles (650 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral.

The landing eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff marked the 88th restoration of a Falcon rocket booster since 2015, however the mission had not but achieved its major goal.

The rocket’s second stage shut down because the Falcon 9 booster was on its ultimate descent. The primary of two higher stage engine firings required on Thursday’s mission positioned the House Power’s GPS Three SV05 spacecraft right into a preliminary parking orbit.

About 63 minutes into the mission, the higher stage’s kerosene-fueled engine reignited for a 44-second burn to reshape the rocket’s orbit to an ellipse stretching to an altitude of some 12,550 miles (20,200 kilometers) at its highest level.

After flying into communications vary of House Power floor stations in Hawaii and California, the rocket deployed the GPS satellite tv for pc at 1:38 p.m. EDT (1738 GMT), almost an hour-and-a-half after launch.

Lockheed Martin, which constructed the satellite tv for pc, confirmed floor groups established contact with the brand new GPS spacecraft shortly after separation from the Falcon 9 rocket.

Over the subsequent one-to-two weeks, the satellite tv for pc will use its personal orbit-raising engine to maneuver right into a round Medium Earth Orbit 12,550 miles above Earth at an inclination of 55 levels. If all goes in accordance with plan, the brand new satellite tv for pc, nicknamed “Neil Armstrong,” might be transitioned to the management of House Power operators inside two weeks of launch, in accordance with Col. Edward Byrne, senior materiel chief of the Medium Earth Orbit division on the House and Missile Programs Heart.

Together with Thursday’s mission, SpaceX has launched 67 reused boosters with a flawless success file since March 2017. However Thursday’s launch was be the primary time army officers entrusted a high-priority nationwide safety payload with a trip on a reused first stage.

The certification of reused Falcon 9 boosters for nationwide safety payloads may save taxpayers tons of of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} within the subsequent few years. The House Power has already achieved some financial savings by switching to reused Falcon 9 rockets on two GPS satellite tv for pc launches, together with Thursday’s flight.

The army additionally agreed to allow SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 boosters on 4 GPS missions, together with two missions final yr with model new rockets.

The mixed financial savings totaled $64.5 million over 4 missions, clearing the way in which for the launch of extra nationwide safety payloads on previously-flown rockets within the coming years.

“In preparation for this first-time occasion, we’ve labored intently with SpaceX perceive the refurbishment processes and are assured that this rocket is prepared for its subsequent flight,” mentioned Walter Lauderdale, the deputy mission director and Falcon division chief on the House Power’s House and Missile Programs Heart.

A condensation cloud pours over SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket because it exceeds the velocity of sound Thursday. Credit score: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Images

Lauderdale mentioned the army has been working since 2016 on certifying the usage of reused rocket {hardware} on nationwide safety satellite tv for pc launches. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, the House Power’s two major area launch suppliers, can suggest to make use of previously-flown {hardware} on all nationwide safety missions underneath new contracts awarded final August.

Thus far, solely SpaceX flies recycled rocket levels.

“By continued partnership with SpaceX, we have been in a position to attain an settlement to speed up our use of previously-flown {hardware} for GPS missions,” Lauderdale instructed reporters in a teleconference Monday.

SpaceX has flown one of many Falcon 9 boosters in its fleet 10 instances, and a number of other others have accomplished 5 or extra missions.

A army launch in 2019 of a Falcon Heavy rocket, which SpaceX created by bolting collectively three Falcon 9 cores, used two previously-flown facet boosters. However that mission carried experimental expertise demonstration satellites, not an operational payload like a GPS spacecraft.

Since agreeing to place the GPS Three SV05 spacecraft on a reused booster, the House Power formally licensed SpaceX’s restoration and refurbishment processes. That non-recurring work will make it simpler to repeatedly fly nationwide safety payloads on reused Falcon 9s sooner or later, Lauderdale mentioned.

Technicians with the fifth House Launch Squadron at Cape Canaveral observe SpaceX’s refurbishment of reused rockets. In comparison with many industrial satellite tv for pc operators, the House Power performs extra oversight of its launch contractors as a result of excessive price and criticality of its payloads for U.S. nationwide safety.

“Working with SpaceX, we consider their inspection processes in addition to what they’ve achieved to judge the {hardware} after it returns,” Lauderdale mentioned.

The work included establishing the best way to consider the remaining lifetime of a Falcon 9 booster by analyzing the stress it encounters throughout launch and re-entry again into the ambiance. SpaceX’s busy launch schedule — this was the 19th Falcon 9 launch of the yr — has given army officers loads of information to crunch, and added to their confidence in launching the GPS Three SV05 mission on a reused booster.

We consider all of that and examine that, in essence, to see how a lot of the lifetime of every other parts could have been consumed by what it’s seen throughout flight,” Lauderdale mentioned. “In order that flight information has been very useful for us in assessing how a lot life is remaining.

The House Power “will proceed to judge that information as we have a look at potential for going past the second flight of a specific booster,” he mentioned.

SpaceX’s drone ship will return to Port Canaveral with the Falcon 9 booster that landed after Thursday’s mission. The rocket might be refurbished for an additional launch.

Lauderdale mentioned the booster will return to SpaceX’s rotation of reused rockets to be used on industrial missions. The House Power’s subsequent GPS launch in 2022 will use a distinct previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket.

The launch Thursday used a model new payload fairing, which protects the satellite tv for pc throughout launch. Lauderdale mentioned SpaceX may suggest reusing the nostril cone on future nationwide safety missions.

One of many two photo voltaic panels on the GPS Three SV05 spacecraft is prolonged throughout floor testing at Lockheed Martin’s manufacturing facility close to Denver. Credit score: Lockheed Martin

The GPS Three SV05 satellite tv for pc arrived on Florida’s House Coast in April from its Lockheed Martin manufacturing facility in Colorado. After supply on an Air Power C-5 cargo airplane, the spacecraft handed ultimate checkouts and was fueled with hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide maneuvering propellants. Technicians then encapsulated the satellite tv for pc contained in the falcon 9 payload fairing and moved it to the launch pad for attachment to the rocket.

The totally fueled satellite tv for pc weighed roughly 9,550 kilos, or 4,331 kilograms, on the time of launch, in accordance with Byrne.

Three of the House Power’s first 4 new-generation GPS 3-series navigation satellites have launched on Falcon 9 rockets from SpaceX. One other GPS Three satellite tv for pc lifted off on Delta Four rocket from SpaceX rival United Launch Alliance.

The upgraded sequence of GPS Three navigation satellites are designed for 15-year life spans, an enchancment over the seven-and-a-half yr and 12-year design lives of previous-generation GPS satellites.

Th GPS Three satellites present 3 times higher accuracy and as much as eight instances improved anti-jamming capabilities over early GPS spacecraft, in accordance with Lockheed Martin.

The GPS Three satellites additionally introduce a brand new L-band civilian sign that’s suitable with different worldwide navigation satellite tv for pc networks, reminiscent of Europe’s Galileo program. Combining alerts from GPS, Galileo, and different navigation satellites can enhance the precision of space-based place measurements.

The U.S. army makes use of GPS satellites for sensible bombs and different precision-guided munitions. Troops depend on the community, which requires a minimal of 24 satellites for international protection, to supply positioning information pole-to-pole.

With GPS Three SV05, the GPS fleet with have 24 satellites able to beaming an encrypted military-grade navigation sign often known as M-code, sufficient for worldwide M-code protection. The oldest GPS satellites nonetheless within the fleet are usually not outfitted with M-code.

The M-code sign permits GPS satellites to broadcast higher-power, jam-resistant alerts over particular areas, reminiscent of a army theater or battlefield. The potential offers U.S. and allied forces with extra dependable navigation providers, and will additionally enable the army to deliberately disrupt or jam civilian-grade GPS alerts in a specific area, whereas the M-code sign stays unimpeded.

L3Harris Applied sciences builds the navigation payloads for the GPS Three satellites.

Civilians use the World Positioning System on their smartphones, and airliners make use of augmented GPS alerts for precision landings and in-flight navigation. Banks use the timing alerts from GPS satellites to time tag monetary transactions.

Lockheed Martin has contracts with the House Power to construct as much as 32 GPS 3-series and GPS Three Observe-On satellites. Building of the primary eight GPS Three satellites is roofed in a 2008 contract valued at $3.6 billion.

Army officers have been unable to supply an actual price for the GPS Three SV05 spacecraft, however the common price of every satellite tv for pc within the 2008 buy quantities to just about $500 million in inflation-adjusted {dollars}.

Byrne mentioned earlier this week that the GPS Three SV05 satellite tv for pc will function in Airplane D, Slot 1, of the GPS constellation. That place is at present occupied by a GPS satellite tv for pc that launched from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 6, 2004, on a Delta 2 rocket.

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Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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