Many people were shocked when the US Air Force announced last year that SpaceX got a $316 million contract to launch a National Reconnaissance Office satellite in the fiscal year 2022. That is despite the recent move that SpaceX will be using reusable rockets for military operations.
SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell explained the contract pays for launch services and infrastructure, and other assets essential for national security launches.
"The launch was not that expensive," Shotwell said per SpaceNews.
SpaceX was awarded the $316 million contract as the first launch service provider under the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 procurement. United Launch Alliance, the other provider chosen in this program, was awarded $337 million to launch two missions similar to the one awarded to SpaceX.
This drew criticism because SpaceX's prior national security launch proposals were far less expensive than ULA's. For example, NASA just awarded SpaceX a $117 million Falcon Heavy launch contract. ULA is flying two flights for the price of one SpaceX flight in the first Phase 2 grant.
Shotwell, on the other hand, insisted that the company's launch prices would not increase. With this, the government will be charged for an expanded payload fairing, enhancements to SpaceX's West Coast launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and a vertical integration facility required for NRO missions.
According to Shotwell, the price reflects the infrastructure primarily.
On the other hand, SpaceX included development costs in its submission because it never received the infrastructure and development funds that its competitors did, according to Shotwell. In 2018, the Air Force granted ULA and other launch companies bidding for Phase 2 contracts billions of dollars for vehicle and infrastructure development.
SpaceX Gets Pentagon's Permission to Launch National Security Satellite
Science Times reported that the next SpaceX flight would be historic, as the Pentagon has granted Elon Musk's permission to launch a national security satellite into orbit for the first time using a reusable rocket.
SpaceX will launch the GPS III SV05 satellite for the Space Force from Florida on Thursday. They will be using the same Falcon 9 rocket booster that launched the GPS III SV04 satellite in November. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets are partially reusable. The business often lands the boosters - the rocket's largest and most expensive component - before relaunching it.
"In preparation for this first time event we've worked closely with SpaceX to understand the refurbishment processes and are confident that this rocket is ready for its next flight," Dr. Walter Lauderdale, deputy mission director of the US Space Force's Space and Missiles Systems Center, said per Entrepreneur.
SpaceX Bags Five Of Six GPS III Satellite Contracts Yet
Five of the six GPS III satellite launch contracts have been given to SpaceX. The GPS III SV02 mission is the only one flown by competitor United Launch Alliance, a rocket-building joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. At a total of $469.8 million, the five launch contracts did not contain the option for SpaceX to reuse its Falcon 9 rockets at the outset.
The GPS III spacecraft, as the name implies, are replacements for the 31 GPS satellites already in orbit.
SpaceX's boosters are designed to land and be reusable, unlike the government's typical practice of discarding boosters in the ocean and replacing them with new rockets.
AirForceMag said in its report that Space and Missiles Systems Center changed the contracts last year for SpaceX's next two GPS III satellite flights to allow reuse. It would save the military's budget over $64 million, the same report added.
Space Force Willing to Fly Payloads on Non-Military Rockets
The Space Force specifically requested that SpaceX launch SV05 with the same rocket that launched the SV04 satellite. On the other hand, Dr. Lauderdale stated that Space and Missiles Systems Center has no other constraints regarding how the firm uses the Falcon 9 rocket in the future. He added that Space Force is also willing to fly national security payloads launched on non-military rockets.
"We continue to work with [SpaceX] and, looking ahead to the SV06 mission next year ... we'll be working with them as to what boosters are available," said Dr. Lauderdale per Engadget (via Yahoo News). "We are certainly open to using other boosters not just ones that have flown [for Space Force]," he added.
The decision is a step forward in the United States military's acceptance of SpaceX's reusability of rockets, as the government previously forced the business to utilize new rockets and discard the boosters in the ocean, as is customary in the launch sector.
Dr. Lauderdale stated that Space and Missiles Systems Center has been working for the past five years to establish new specifications for reusable rocket launches. Before the launch, he said, the center assessed over 440 adjustments to the booster and completed over 380 verification steps.
"Taken as a whole, our disciplined approach is part of an uncompromising dedication to mission success executed one launch at a time," Dr. Lauderdale said per US Express News.
Check out more news and information on SpaceX on Science Times.