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Air Force Demands Performance Tests from SpaceX Before It Launches Reusable Rockets

Some time will be needed for the Air Force to audit the performance of SpaceX as it executes EELV launches before even trying to consider flying military payloads on reusable rockets.

SpaceX has decided not to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. That is because the Block 5 form of the vehicle that is supposed to lift GPS 3 satellite on Dec. 18 is an extra rocket without any legs or grid fins.

According to Walter Lauderdale, mission chief of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate, only an extra rocket could meet “mission performance requirements”.

Various elements prompted this choice and that also includes the direction of the mission and weight of payload. “There basically was not execution saved to meet our necessities and permit them, for this mission, to bring the first stage back,” Lauderdale stated on Dec. 14  during a conference with journalists.

Throughout the entire call, Lauderdale referenced “vulnerability” a few times to underscore the Air Force’s reasoning about reusable rockets and about working with another dispatch supplier.

The GPS 3 dispatch will check SpaceX’s introduction as a military contractual worker under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The organization won a $82.7 million contract in 2016 for the main GPS 3 mission, which had been at first planned for May 2018 however was deferred for extra testing of the Block 5 rocket. When Space X got into EELV program, it denoted a critical progress for the Air Force following a time of working solely with United Launch Alliance. For this specific dispatch, ULA did not present an offer. SpaceX won a second GPS 3 dispatch contract in 2017 for $96.3 million. Recently, it scored a $290 million arrangement for three extra GPS dispatches.

Therefore, Lauderdale demanded that the Air Force will require time to audit SpaceX’s execution before even thinking about flying military payloads on reusable rockets. The Air Force won’t trade off execution or dependability, he said, “We have to ensure the rocket performs safety and accurately.” The $529 million GPS 3 payload is “precious cargo”

This satellite is the first one out of 10 GPS 3 vehicles that the Air Force intends to put into space in the upcoming years. The shuttle, that was created by Lockheed Martin, will communicate more secure and more precise signs than the present GPS satellites. When the new satellite gets to orbit and finishes up to year and a half of tests, it will replace an old GPS satellite that has been in administration since 1997.

Lauderdale said the Air Force will hold up to perceive what occurs in this first dispatch and concentrate the information before it can take part in any exchanges about reusability.

“We are continuing to look at this as we try to drive down uncertainty,” he said. “As we work through this first flight together, we will look at the performance, do all the calculations and analysis so we can continue to look for opportunities in the future.”

Lauderdale also stated he couldn’t foresee if and when SpaceX would be permitted to fly a reusable Falcon 9 for a GPS dispatch. “I don’t want to commit to a particular mission but, fundamentally, we need to work through the uncertainty, analyze the performance,” he said. “We’re getting flight experience with SpaceX, and that removes uncertainty, gives us more confidence in what performance the vehicle can deliver. We’ll continue to work as partners to see what’s possible in the future.”

During the first flight, the attention will be on execution and security, said Lauderdale. “After we see the performance of the Falcon 9 we are going to refine our analysis and look if we can get performance back that would enable SpaceX to recover their booster,” he added. “It’s an ongoing project.”

After the Tuesday dispatch, he stated, “We’re going to analyze the results.” One way or the other, he also included, “We’re not going to compromise the requirements that we need to deliver our spacecraft. But as we become more confident, as we get more data to support our assessments, we can always revisit, see the art of the possible. But we’re not going to do it without having confidence that we can deliver the spacecraft safely to orbit.”

Security rehearses under investigation

The most important test of Space X as a national security launch provider comes in the wake of disclosures that NASA started a survey of the organization’s safety rehearses, probably provoked by the ongoing conduct of SpaceX author Elon Musk.

Col. Robert Bongiovi, chief of the SMC Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate, stated the Air Force has no problems with the organization’s security culture, on which he commented, “We have a standard of 100 percent mission success and a robust mission assurance process. We have worked hand in hand with SpaceX to review the design of the Falcon 9. We very much understand their mission success processes. We absolutely did not have a concern about their process.” And he also added: “A key part of mission assurance is understanding what’s happening in testing, and making sure no issues cross over to this launch.”

In any case, The Air Force still has not decided when it may permit reused equipment rather than fresh out of the plastic new Block 5 rockets. “We intend to certify flown vehicles,” he said. According to him, SMC is working with SpaceX to comprehend what’s unique and what do they need to keep an eye out for. “SpaceX has a ton of experience doing this. We are working with them to enable us to assemble an arrangement so we can learn too,’’ he added.

SMC authorities said they would keep a an eye on how pre-flown first stages performed in commercial launches before they choose on the off chance that they are ready for national security missions. Gen. John Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, disclosed to Bloomberg News in October 2017 that the Air Force would be “absolutely foolish” not to use SpaceX’s reused rockets so as to exploit the cost investment funds.

The Muskette
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