SMC Saves $53M Reusing SpaceX Boosters for GPS III

 In Air, Space

Falcon 9 lands on SpaceX drone ship “Just Read The Instructions.”

WASHINGTON: In advance of SpaceX’s planned launch of the fourth GPS III satellite on Tuesday, Space Force offi­cials today revealed that the launch of the fifth bird next July for the first time will rely on a used Falcon 9 boost­er.

A con­tract mod­i­fi­ca­tion signed at the begin­ning of this month with SpaceX allows for reuse of boost­ers for both GPS-SV05 and ‑SV06, Walt Lauderdale, SMC’s Falcon Systems and Operations Division chief, told reporters today. The changes, wrung out in a pack­age deal across SpaceX’s four launch con­tracts for GPS III, is saving the Space Force a cool $52.7 mil­lion.

SpaceX and SMC suc­cess­ful­ly recov­ered the GPS III-SV03 booster after its June 30 launch, and plan to recov­er the boost­er from the upcom­ing launch of GPS III-SV04 using a drone ship. (SpaceX’s cur­rent drone ship is called “Of Course I Still Love You” — named after one of the AI-space­ships in the Culture series novel, A Player of Games, as a trib­ute to author Ian Banks.) It is the boost­er from Tuesday’s launch that then will be eval­u­at­ed and re-used for GPS III-SV05, he said.

The launch of SV05 orig­i­nal­ly was planned for late January, but is being delayed because SMC and SpaceX need to put togeth­er a frame­work for eval­u­at­ing the used booster’s abil­i­ty to be reused safely, Lauderdale explained. Officials from the two sides will devel­op cri­te­ria under the “non-recur­ring design val­i­da­tion review of reuse” that can then be used to eval­u­ate re-using boost­ers for future launch­es under SpaceX’s Phase 2 National Security Space Launch (NSSL) con­tract, he said.

As Breaking D readers know, SpaceX won one of the two cov­et­ed spots under the NSSL pro­gram on Aug. 7, along­side United Launch Alliance (ULA).  The indef­i­nite delivery/indefinite quan­ti­ty (ID/IQ) con­tract for the two firms covers all Space Force and NRO launch­es between 2022 and 2027 — with ULA guar­an­teed 60 per­cent of those launch­es and SpaceX 40 per­cent. The Space Force cur­rent­ly plans some 34 launch­es during that time frame.

“As of today, SpaceX has launched 92 Falcon nine mis­sions, which rep­re­sents the most flown oper­a­tional rocket in the us today. Of those, we have recov­ered 53 times, and have re-flown 38 times,” Michael Ellis, direc­tor, SpaceX’s National Security Space Launch head, told reporters today.

The launch delay will put back by a few months the ‘on switch’ for global cov­er­age of the long-await­ed M-Code for mil­i­tary users, but not sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact the sched­ule. The highly encrypt­ed M‑Code to pro­tect GPS sig­nals from jam­ming and spoof­ing currently is enabled on 22 GPS satellites of var­i­ous gen­er­a­tions; two more are needed for full cov­er­age.

“This satel­lite, GPS-III-SV04 is the 23rd M‑Code enabled satel­lite in the con­stel­la­tion, just one short now of the 24 needed for global cov­er­age,” Tonya Ladwig, acting vice pres­i­dent of Lockheed Martin’s Navigation Systems Mission Area, said during today’s brief­ing.

She added that Lockheed Martin’s M-Code Early Use (MCEU) hardware and software upgrade package for the GPS Operational Control System (OCS) is on track to become oper­a­tional by the end of the year.

The upgrade allows the M‑Code to be used not just by GPS III, but by all older GPS satel­lites that are M‑Code capa­ble (GPS IIR‑M and GPS IIF satel­lites.) It also allows M‑Code func­tion­ing to be mon­i­tored by ground con­trollers, as well as sup­port­ing test­ing and field­ing of user equip­ment, accord­ing to com­pa­ny offi­cials.

“GPS III satel­lites pro­vide a major step for­ward in both capa­bil­i­ty and resilien­cy com­pared to legacy GPS satel­lites,” said Col. Edward Byrne, senior materiel leader, SMC’s MEO Space Systems Division.

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