Used rockets can now be used for launching national-security satellites. The contract between the U.S. Space Force and Elon Musk’s SpaceX was modified to use Falcon 9 boosters for a couple of GPS satellite launches scheduled soon. The GPS III-SV05 and GPS III-SV06 satellites can now ride on the Falcon 9s that have already flow the first stages.
This move will save nearly $53 million. This move heralds the reuse of rocket technology. This can result in substantial savings. SpaceX and Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) agreed in September to launch GPS satellites with used boosters. Next year, a GPS satellite will be launched with the main booster that has already flown earlier. An earlier contract between SMC and SpaceX allowed the landing of Falcon 9 first stages during GPS launches.
SpaceX has been recovering and reusing rocket hardware in its commercial launches and NASA launches. But this is the first time that reuse of rocket technology is taking place for a U.S. Military’s GPS mission – a national security space launch mission. According to Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, the U.S. Space Force invested considerably into evaluating the reuse of rocket technology and was pleased with the outcome.
This validated the move to use a flight-proven rocket’s first stages for national security critical missions. SpaceX has been landing and again flying the first stage of the Falcon 9. SpaceX has been pioneering efforts to reduce the cost of space launches by a whopping 75%. The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are SpaceX’s successful lower-cost offerings that have challenged the market to reduce the cost of rocket building. The other players in the sector are Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
The idea to reuse rocket technology was based on the premise that it was not viable to fire off rockets once and allow two stages to burn up. It could be likened to flying a planeload of passengers to a destination far away and not using that flight again and then building a new plane to return home. Building rockets with reuse in mind is the way to go forward. But the rocket needs to be fueled enough to return home. Then it needs to be inspected and refurbished. This does add to the costs.
With these moves, there will be a clear understanding of the functional lifetime of a Falcon 9 booster. It has proven the capabilities of the Falcon 9 launch missions for national security space. This can spark off new avenues for rocket reuse.