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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 and astronauts to orbit and returning from space. Around nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first-stage booster conducts controlled vertical landings on autonomous droneships at sea and on landing pads. To date, the company has successfully landed 65 orbital-class rocket boosters and reused 45. Some of those boosters have re-flown six times --a first in the history of rocketry.
SpaceX was not allowed to recover nor reuse rocket boosters during United States national security missions. The U.S. Space Force signed a contract with SpaceX to deploy its collection of third new-generation series Global Positioning System satellites, GPS-III. Earlier this year, the U.S. Space Force modified the contract with SpaceX, to allow the recovery and reuse of previously-flown Falcon 9 first-stage boosters during GPS-III satellite deployments.
"SpaceX was also recently selected by the Space Force to carry out critical National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions ordered over the next five years. SpaceX will build upon our years-long collaboration with the United States Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office to utilize the operationally mature Falcon fleet, which has achieved NSSL certification and completed a combined 95 orbital missions to date for a variety of customers," SpaceX announced in September.
During the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute online forum the Director of the U.S. Space Force's Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise, Colonel Robert Bongiovi, said that SpaceX is now allowed to use previously flown boosters for all national security missions. “Over the next 18 months we’ll complete the transition to a fully reusable SpaceX fleet for our national security missions,” he stated on Thursday, SpaceNews reports.
Starting in 2021, SpaceX will reuse the Falcon 9 boosters recovered from GPS-III missions for upcoming national security missions. The aerospace company recovered two new Falcon 9 first-stage boosters soon after deploying the GPS satellites to orbit. One was recovered on June 30, the other on November 5. By 2022, the U.S. Space Force expects to utilize a fleet of reusable SpaceX rockets. Bongiovi said that the new contract to use SpaceX's reusable rockets for the next four GPS satellite deployments, saves the U.S. government over $65 million dollars in taxpayer money.
"SpaceX is honored to support the United States Space Force with a solution given the highest possible rating for system capability, schedule readiness, and system risk, using a mix of new and flight-proven launch vehicles," the company wrote in a September press release, "We look forward to leveraging this extensive capability to continue delivering the country’s most reliable and affordable launch services for years to come."
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.