The United States Department of Defense published a document today, March 9, announcing it awarded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) contracts under the U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 program. The Phase 2 contract will be composed of at least thirty Pentagon space missions that are slated to take place over a 5-year period, beginning in 2022. The U.S. Air Force awarded SpaceX a total of $159.7 million to launch 40% of the planned missions, starting with the deployment of USSF-36 and NROL-69 payloads. The missions will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. They also awarded a $224.3 million contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch 60% of the Pentagon's missions.
In December last year, SpaceX launched the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) NROL-108 payload atop a previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket, and is scheduled to launch a U.S. Space Force (USSF) payload known as USSF-44 atop a powerful Falcon Heavy rocket no earlier than July this year. The missions under the new contract announced today are “expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023. Fiscal 2021 missile and space procurement funds in the full amount are being obligated at the time of award,” the Department of Defense wrote on Tuesday.
To accommodate future national security payloads under the Phase 2 contract, SpaceX has plans to build a new launch tower for vertical payload integration. Currently, SpaceX integrates their payload into the rocket's fairing vertically inside a hangar. The rocket company plans to build a Mobile Service Tower (MST) at launch pads in Florida. The payload in the Phase 2 missions, may involve launching classified military payloads that could require a special vertical accommodation when inserting inside the fairing of their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The tower will be 86.5 meters tall (281 feet), 36 meters wide (118 feet), and feature an enclosure to completely encapsulate a rocket.
Images Source: SpaceX FAA document
The 11-floor mobile tower will be able to move the rockets vertically to launch the launch pad. Also be capable of providing a safe environment for SpaceX and military crews to insert very large satellites inside the rocket's fairing vertically. In 2020, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell described the Mobile Service Tower –“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. Shotwell also said that SpaceX might also build similar mobile tower at their other launch site located in California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, “If it ends up being required at Vandenberg, we will put one in at Vandenberg. It depends on the mission manifest that we have,” she stated.
All Images Source: SpaceX
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.