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The air force is open to reusable rockets, but SpaceX must first show performance

The Air Force will need time to review SpaceX's performance when conducting EELV launches before it would consider flying military payloads on reusable rockets. WASHINGTON – SpaceX in its first National Security Launch for the US Air Force will not attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. The Block 5 version of the vehicle scheduled to lift a GPS 3 satellite on December 18 is a replaceable rocket without a leg or grid. The Air Force decided that only one substitutable rocket could meet "mission requirements", said Walter Lauderdale, Head of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, launching the Enterprise Systems Directorate. A number of factors led to this decision, including mission and payload. "It was simply not performance that was reserved to meet our requirements and let them, for this mission, take the first stage back," Lauderdale said on December 1 4 in a conference call with reporters. Lauderdale during the call mentioned the word "insecurity" several times to underline the air force's thinking about reusable rockets and to work with a new launcher. The launch GPS 3 marks SpaceX's debut as a military contractor under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The company won a $ 82.7 million contract in 2016 for the first GPS 3 mission, originally scheduled for May 2018, but delayed for further testing of the Block 5 rocket. SpaceX's entry into the EELV program marked a significant transition to the air force after a decade of working exclusively with…

The Air Force will need time to review SpaceX’s performance when conducting EELV launches before it would consider flying military payloads on reusable rockets.

WASHINGTON – SpaceX in its first National Security Launch for the US Air Force will not attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. The Block 5 version of the vehicle scheduled to lift a GPS 3 satellite on December 18 is a replaceable rocket without a leg or grid.

The Air Force decided that only one substitutable rocket could meet “mission requirements”, said Walter Lauderdale, Head of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, launching the Enterprise Systems Directorate.

A number of factors led to this decision, including mission and payload. “It was simply not performance that was reserved to meet our requirements and let them, for this mission, take the first stage back,” Lauderdale said on December 1

4 in a conference call with reporters.

Lauderdale during the call mentioned the word “insecurity” several times to underline the air force’s thinking about reusable rockets and to work with a new launcher.

The launch GPS 3 marks SpaceX’s debut as a military contractor under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The company won a $ 82.7 million contract in 2016 for the first GPS 3 mission, originally scheduled for May 2018, but delayed for further testing of the Block 5 rocket. SpaceX’s entry into the EELV program marked a significant transition to the air force after a decade of working exclusively with the United Launch Alliance. For this launch, ULA did not submit a bid. SpaceX won a second GPS 3 launch contract for $ 96.3 million in 2017. Earlier this year, it made an agreement of $ 290 million for another three GPS launches.

Lauderdale insisted that the Air Force would need time to review SpaceX’s performance when performing these missions before it would consider flying military payloads on reusable rockets. The air force will not compromise performance or reliability, he said. “We have to make sure that the rocket performs safety and accuracy.” The $ 529 million GPS 3 payload is “precious cargo”.

The satellite is the first of 10 GPS 3 vehicles that the Air Force plans to put in circulation in the coming years. The spacecraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin will send more secure and more accurate signals than the current GPS satellites. When the new satellite comes to an end and completes up to 18 months of testing, it will replace an aging GPS satellite that has been in use since 1997.

Lauderdale said the air force is waiting to see what’s happening in this first launch and study the information before any discussions about reusability can be made.

“We continue to look at this when we try to reduce uncertainty,” he said. “When we work through this first flight together, we look at the results, do all calculations and analyzes so that we can continue looking for opportunities in the future.”

Lauderdale said he could not predict if and when SpaceX would be allowed to fly a reusable Falcon 9 for a GPS launch. “I do not want to commit a particular mission, but basically we have to work through uncertainty, analyze performance,” he said. “We get aerospace experience with SpaceX, and it eliminates uncertainty, which gives us greater confidence in what performance the vehicle can deliver. We continue to work as a partner to see what’s possible in the future.”

In this first flight focuses on performance and safety, says Lauderdale. “When we see Falcon 9’s performance, we will refine our analysis and see if we can get performance back that would allow SpaceX to restore its booster,” he added. “It’s an ongoing project.”

After Tuesday’s launch, he said: “We are going to analyze the results.” In one way or another he added: “We will not compromise the requirements we need to deliver our spacecraft. But when we become more confident, when we get more data to support our assessments, we can always return, see the possible art . But we should not do it without the confidence that we can deliver the spacecraft safely. “

Security Practices Under Review

SpaceX’s first key test as a national security launcher comes in the wake of revelations as NASA initiated a review of company security practices, probably due to the recent construction of SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the SMC Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate, said the air force had no problems with the company’s security culture. “We have a standard of 100 percent mission success and a robust mission insurance process,” he said. “We have worked hand in hand with SpaceX to review Falcon 9,” he told reporters. “We understand very much about their successful processes. We had absolutely no worries about their process… An important part of mission insurance is to understand what happens during testing and ensure that no problems are left for this launch.”

However, the Air Force has not decided when it can allow reusable hardware instead of brand new Block 5 rockets. “We intend to certify aviation cars,” he said. SMC works with SpaceX “to understand what is different and what must we look for,” he added. “SpaceX has a lot of experience in doing this. We work with them to help us compile a plan so we can learn too.”

SMC officials said they should wait and see how preflownade first stages were performed in commercial launches before deciding if they were suitable for national security missions. Gene. John Raymond, commander of the Air Force Space Command, told Bloomberg News in October 2017 that the air force would be “absolutely stupid” in order not to exploit SpaceX’s recycled rockets to take advantage of cost savings.

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