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SpaceX is currently the only aerospace company in the world capable of reliably reusing recovered orbital-class rockets. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket features the capability of launching payloads to orbit and returning from space. Around nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first-stage booster conducts controlled vertical landings. To date, the company has successfully landed almost sixty orbital-class rocket boosters.
The United States Space Force signed a contract with SpaceX to deploy its collection of third new-generation series Global Positioning System satellites, GPS-III. During military missions, SpaceX was not allowed to recover nor reuse rocket boosters. The U.S. Space Force modified a contract with SpaceX, to allow the use of previously-flown Falcon 9 first-stage boosters during GPS-III satellite deployments. During a press conference on June 26, the Space Force’s Chief of Space Missile Center's Launch Enterprise Falcon Division, Walter Lauderdale, shared SpaceX took off “several million dollars” off the total price of the launch as a tradeoff to recover (land) the Falcon 9 rocket boosters. The original SpaceX launch contract was valued at around $96.5 million.
According to Lauderdale, SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 rockets will save the U.S. Space Force around $53 million in launch expenses for GPS-III satellite deployments. “SMC’s commitment to innovative partnerships and working with the commercial sector while maintaining our mission assurance posture and mission-success record cannot be understated,” Lauderdale said in a conference with reporters on Friday. “I am proud of our partnership with SpaceX that allowed us to successfully negotiate contract modifications for the upcoming GPS III missions that will save taxpayers $52.7 million while maintaining our unprecedented record of success,” he stated.
“The United States' launch industry is the envy of the world,” said Lt. General John F. Thompson, Commander of the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) – “Industry’s innovation has been key to SMC’s success over our 60+ year existence. I am thrilled to welcome SpaceX’s innovative reuse into the National Security Space Launch program!”
Under this contract modification, the first Falcon 9 booster was recovered on June 30, when SpaceX deployed GPS-III Space Vehicle 03. Next week, on September 29, SpaceX will deploy GPS-III Space Vehicle 04 and will attempt to recover (land) the new Falcon 9’s first-stage that could be reused on a future Space Force mission. The first previously-flown boosters will be reused next year, when the military schedules to launch Space Vehicle 05 and Space Vehicle 06.
“SpaceX is proud to leverage Falcon 9′s flight-proven benefits and capabilities for national security space launch missions,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said - “We appreciate the effort that the U.S. Space Force invested into the evaluation and are pleased that they see the benefits of the technology. Our extensive experience with reuse has allowed SpaceX to continually upgrade the fleet and save significant precious tax dollars on these launches.”
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.