SpaceX transferred the NROL-85 from Cabo to Vandenberg at no extra cost in exchange for booster reuse

SpaceX transferred the NROL-85 from Cabo to Vandenberg at no extra cost in exchange for booster reuse

The NROL-85 was transferred to the West Coast at no extra cost to the government, and in return, the NRO agreed to fly a reused first stage.

WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-85 mission, launched April 17 by SpaceX, was originally scheduled to fly from Cape Canaveral, Florida. But just 12 months before launch, the NRO informed SpaceX that it needed to send its payload to a different orbit so the launch would have to be moved to the western range of Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.

“This was a challenge,” said NROL-85 mission manager Major Jonathan Schirner this week at the NRO’s “The plate” podcast.

National security space launch missions are rarely moved from coast to coast in such a short amount of time, Schirner said. “This is the first time we’ve made an interval change at the 12-month mark on the NSSL timeframe.”

Normally, it would be extremely expensive for the government to change ranges like this because NSSL missions are planned two years in advance and SpaceX, in this case, had already started the Cape integration work, Schirner said.

The NRO and SpaceX struck a deal to move the NROL-85 to the West Coast at no extra cost to the government, and in return, the NRO agreed to fly the mission on a reused first stage that had already flown on another NRO mission. .

Under the agreement, SpaceX would launch NROL-87 in February at Vandenberg and reuse thrust for NROL-85 in April. Schirner said the deal was also possible because the Space Force Space Systems Command was able to examine the recovered booster and approve it for reuse in just two months, a much shorter time than usual.,

NROL-87 was the first NRO launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket intended to be reused for a future mission..

Schirner said a lot of effort and coordination went into relocating the NROL-85. “About 12 months ago, the director of the NRO decided that in order to preserve the opportunity to optimize the orbit, we would change the ranges to Vandenberg because you can hit the two orbits he was looking at,” he said.

NRO ships are classified, and the agency does not disclose which payloads it launches on national security missions. satellite tracker Ted Molczan said Spaceflight Now he believed that NROL-85 carried a pair of maritime surveillance satellites.

The use of a previously flown booster was “part of the contract renegotiation to take us to the West Coast,” Schirner said. “The reused booster was in that contract mod. And that really paid off for a lot of the integration work that has already been done on Cabo.”

“Using a reused booster, we were able to move backs and we didn’t have to spend a dollar to do that,” he said. In most circumstances, the government would have to pay the contractor for the integration work that had already been done, he added. “So I think when we talk about the benefits of a reused booster, we are talking about the taxpayer savings at one end, but specifically in this mission, we were able to make it a priority of the NRO director while spending zero taxpayer dollars to do it. ”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.