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Space Force says it will fly a used Falcon 9 rocket for the first time

A Falcon 9 rocket launches the GPS III-03 mission in June 2020.
Zoom in / A Falcon 9 rocket launches the GPS III-03 mission in June 2020.


On Friday, the US Space Force said it will launch two Global Positioning System critical missions on a used Falcon 9 rocket next year.

This will save the military $ 52 million, officials said, as SpaceX agreed to reduce the compensation for the two missions in exchange for used hardware. This represents a significant step by the Space Force towards validating the use of flight-tested first stages of a rocket for the most critical national security missions.

“We look forward to taking this journey with SpaceX as we gain even more experience with them and reusable hardware,”

; said Walter Lauderdale, head of the Falcon Systems and Operations Division of the space and missile center, in a call with journalists.

SpaceX has already launched a GPS mission for the US military (GPS III-01) in late 2018 and again in June of this year (GPS III-03). The missile company will launch another of these navigation satellites (GPS III-04) as early as Wednesday 30 September. These flights were, or will be, flown in new rockets.

Now, Space Force and SpaceX have agreed to negotiate modifications that will allow the launch of two more GPS III missions (05 and 06) on the reused Falcon 9 first-stage rockets. This was made possible by the fact that the Space Force agreed to allow the launch of GPS III satellites in a different orbital perigee. This change occurred after the first launch of GPS III, in 2018, when no recovery attempt was made in the first phase.

Due to this change, SpaceX was able to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 flown on a GPS mission in June and the company will recover the booster in future GPS missions. In exchange for this, SpaceX accepted some additional spacecraft requirements for future missions and saved $ 52 million for the US government.

As part of these missions, the Space Force intends to better understand the functional life of a Falcon 9 booster to further enable rocket reuse in the future. “SMC’s commitment to innovative partnerships and working with the commercial sector while maintaining our mission assurance position and mission success record cannot be underestimated,” Lauderdale said.

SpaceX, which is now eligible to bid for Falcon rockets used in future Space Force missions, has welcomed the US government’s settlement.

“SpaceX is proud to leverage the proven benefits and capabilities of the Falcon 9 for space launch missions for homeland security,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer, in a statement. “We appreciate the effort that the US Space Force has invested in the evaluation and are pleased that they see the benefits of the technology. Our extensive experience with reuse has enabled SpaceX to continually upgrade the fleet and save significant tax dollars on these launches. “

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