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SpaceX is a leader in aerospace innovation. The company’s Falcon 9 rocket is the only orbital-class rocket booster capable of deploying payload into space and return to Earth. It reenters the atmosphere and flawlessly performs controlled landings on autonomous drone ships at sea and landing pad. As of today, SpaceX has performed 86 Falcon flights, 47 rocket boosters performed a landing. SpaceX engineers started to reuse some of the recovered rockets, to decrease the cost of spaceflight. The company aims to reuse a Falcon 9 ten times. The most re-flights a particular Falcon 9 first-stage booster has accomplished is - five. Returning orbital-class rockets to reuse is perhaps the most innovative accomplishment, because it is the key to completely revolutionize spaceflight. Rockets should be as reusable as airplanes and cars. SpaceX aims to eventually develop a rocket that could be fully reusable. SpaceX typically recovers rockets after every mission.
Next week, on June 30th, SpaceX will conduct a mission for the United States Space Force and attempt to recover the Falcon 9 booster for the first time after a military satellite deployment. Falcon 9 will liftoff at around 3:55 p.m. EDT. from Launch Complex 40 at the Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will deploy the military’s third new-generation Global Positioning System GPS-3 satellite (SV03). It will be the company’s second GPS launch for the military. The U.S. Chief of Space Operations General Jay Raymond stated:
"SV03 will join the current 31-satellite operational constellation soon to continue and provide the gold standard in positioning, navigation, and timing services for billions of users worldwide."
#ICYMI ... SV03 will join the current 31-satellite operational constellation soon to continue and provide the gold standard in positioning, navigation, and timing services for billions of users worldwide. @SpaceForceDoD https://t.co/lir21KYOCJ— Gen. Jay Raymond (@SpaceForceCSO) June 28, 2020
SpaceX has approval to land the Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage for the first time on Tuesday. The first mission took place in December 2018. During that mission, SpaceX used an expendable rocket because the mission required the use of more propellant to get the satellite to a specific orbit. Extra propellant is required to land the rocket. The upcoming GPS-3 mission was initially also planned to be an expendable rocket flight. Over the last couple of months, SpaceX and officials from the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center agreed to reduce the price of spaceflight in exchange for recovering Falcon 9 boosters. On June 26 during a press conference, the Space Force’s chief of the Falcon Division (Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate) Walter Lauderdale said SpaceX took off “several million dollars” off the total price of the launch as a tradeoff to recover Falcon 9 rocket boosters used during national security missions. Though, he said SpaceX will not recover rockets during every national security mission. SpaceX is scheduled to conduct three more GPS missions over the next 2 years.
Lauderdale shared the military performed extensive evaluations of rocket recovery mission data before deciding to approve of recovering the rocket during the upcoming mission – “For this launch campaign flow we completed 362 verification tasks and evaluated over 230 risks,” he said. The main concern was that the GPS-3 satellite would not make it into its intended orbit. GPS will operate alongside 31 operational navigation satellites in the United States’ GPS network, in medium Earth orbit (MEO) at an altitude of approximately 20,200 kilometers (12,550 miles) above Earth. Each satellite circles the Earth twice a day to provide time and positioning services globally for the military and civilian users.
U.S Space Force now trusts SpaceX can launch the GPS-3 satellite into MEO, while also recovering Falcon 9’s first-stage minutes after deployment. “SpaceX used the experience of our first launch campaign together to improve their processes," Lauderdale said, "This led to a 40 percent reduction in the number of questions we presented to them. […] We evaluated the information from all SpaceX flights to ensure no cause for concerns for this mission.”
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.