The fifth GPS III satellite rising in 2021 will ride aboard a previously used Falcon 9 first-stage booster, in a first for a National Security Space Launch mission. Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) has contracted with the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise to reuse the booster rockets.
While SMC’s Launch Enterprise and SpaceX previously signed contract modifications enabling SpaceX to recover boosters for GPS III missions, this landmark “reuse” contract modification is the first of its kind for NSSL missions. The contract modifications for the upcoming GPS III missions will save taxpayers $52.7 million, according to Dr. Walt Lauderdale, SMC’s Falcon Systems and Operations Division chief and frequent mission director.”
[PHoto: Two reusable rocket boosters land after the successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Arabsat 6A on April 12, 2019, at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. This marks the second launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket; the most powerful space vehicle flying today. U.S. Air Force photo by James Rainier.]
SpaceX and SMC successfully launched and recovered the GPS III-SV03 booster on June 30, 2020, providing valuable data and insight on reusing the Falcon 9 launch vehicle for future NSSL missions. The booster from the upcoming GPS III-SV04 launch scheduled for Sept. 29 will also be recovered. With this latest contract modification, SMC’s Launch Enterprise agreed to reuse Falcon boosters for GPS III-SV05 and GPS III-SV06. The boosters can then be recovered a second time, for further re-use.
SpaceX has extensive experience in recovering and reusing its two-stage Falcon 9 rocket in its commercial and NASA launches, but this will be a first for the U.S. military. According to the company, SpaceX, has recovered boosters from 53 launches and reused them on 38 subsequent missions..
The current GPSIII launch contract between SpaceX and SKC will conclude after vehicle 6. Lockheed Martin is producing four more satellites (7 through 10) but the launches have not been awarded yet.