Featured Image Source: SpaceX
The Department of the U.S. Air Force awarded SpaceX a National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service contract valued at $316 million. The military launches will be conducted by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, between 2022 and 2027. One of the requirements for the Phase 2 contract is that SpaceX must have the capability to do a vertical payload integration at their launch site. SpaceX President, Gwynne Shotwell, told reporters–
“The only modifications we need are an extended fairing on the Falcon Heavy, and we are going to have to build a vertical integration capability. But we are basically flying the rockets that they need.”
SpaceX plans to build a new rocket Mobile Service Tower at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The massive tower structure will enclose the rocket in a safe vertical position to integrate payload. Shotwell described the tower to reporters – “It comes up and kind of circles around. It’s got to be out there during a Category 5 hurricane, fully enclosed. The whole rocket has to be encapsulated. It’s got huge hurricane clamps on it that clamp it to the ground,” she said.
SpaceX currently uses a horizontal fixture to take rockets to the launch pad and the payload is inserted while the rocket lies horizontally in the hangar. According to an environmental assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that revealed details of the construction project, the Mobile Service Tower will be able to move the rockets vertically to Launch Pad 39A, as well as provide a safe environment for SpaceX teams to insert large satellites vertically inside the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets' fairing. It will be 86.5 meters tall (281 feet), 36 meters wide (118 feet), and feature an enclosure to completely encapsulate a rocket.
Source: SpaceX FAA
The 11-floor tower will be able to guard some of the U.S government’s most expensive national security satellites, and feature the capability of moving away from the rocket before each launch. To move, the service tower will be equipped with rails on the Pad that will be utilized to move it from an “Integration Position,” which is the area where crews will insert the payload, to “Launch position”, approximately 40-meters away, according to SpaceX’s FAA document render (pictured above). The FAA report doesn’t state when SpaceX expects to begin construction of the Mobile Service Tower, nor when it would be completed.
Another requirement under the Air Force’s National Security Space Launch Phase 2 contract, is to accommodate their Falcon Heavy rocket's fairing to fit larger Category C military payloads. The payload fairing currently used by SpaceX measures around 5.2 meters (17 feet) in diameter, with a height of about 13.1 meters (43 feet). The fairing will be enlarged to a width of 5.4 meters (17.7 feet) and a height of around 18.6 meters (61 feet).
The contract does not feature the use of Starship. “It’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, no Starship,” Shotwell told reporters, “I believe some of the reference orbits have slightly more mass to each orbit. But Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are beasts as they are.”