NASA shifts Earth science mission to previously flown Falcon 9

WASHINGTON — NASA’s embrace of reused rockets continued with an settlement this month to switch the impending launch of an Earth science satellite from a new to a beforehand flown Falcon 9, a modify whose entire phrases continue being proprietary.

A deal modification revealed April 6 for the agency’s NASA Start Solutions 2 contract with SpaceX improvements the impending start of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite from a new Falcon 9 booster to a beforehand flown individual. The agreement modification did not describe that change.

SWOT, a mission staying produced in partnership with Canada, France and the United Kingdom, will keep track of the location and quantity of water the two in the oceans as nicely as lakes and rivers, enabling researchers to evaluate the effects of local weather transform. The spacecraft, weighing about 2,000 kilograms, is scheduled to start in November from Vandenberg Place Force Base in California.

NASA selected SpaceX to launch SWOT in November 2016, and at the time the mission was planned for start in 2021. NASA stated then the worth of the contract was $112 million, which integrated the start assistance as nicely as payload processing and integration companies and other assistance. That quantity was appreciably larger than other Falcon 9 contracts NASA awarded to SpaceX, a variation NASA spelled out as currently being joined to the unique needs of the mission.

Curiosity in launch vehicle reuse has been mostly driven by a drive to lessen fees. However, in the circumstance of SWOT, NASA reported it switched to a beforehand flown booster for routine assurance.

“From a SWOT viewpoint, realizing the booster assignment now (principal and back up) lessens all round plan risk and allows NASA’s Start Services Application workforce the chance to get started carrying out auto insight early to make certain no improved technological hazard,” NASA spokesperson Tylar Greene instructed SpaceNews.

Even though NASA recognized the use of beforehand flown boosters on cargo missions to the Worldwide Space Station for many many years, and with crewed missions starting off with Crew-2 in April 2021, the to start with NASA science mission to start on a reused booster was its Double Asteroid Redirection Check (DART) mission that introduced in November 2021, followed months afterwards by the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission.

“The success by SpaceX with previously flown boosters drove improvements to the NASA Launch Expert services-2 agreement that enables NASA to benefit from this ability with missions currently on agreement,” Greene claimed. “The agreement modification was executed just after thorough analysis of SpaceX’s car or truck refurbishment procedures and the development of the governing administration insight approach to make certain pre-flown boosters do not increase technological threat to missions.”

The revealed contract modification did not modify the value of the award. “In addition to the routine added benefits, the authorities acquired criteria from SpaceX instantly benefiting the SWOT mission,” Greene stated. “The specific thing to consider provided to NASA for the switch to previously flown boosters is proprietary to SpaceX.”

It is unclear what sort of consideration SpaceX could offer you that could continue to be proprietary in an unclassified govt deal. SpaceX did not answer to questions about the SWOT agreement transform. The corporation infrequently responds to media inquiries.

The switch from a new to a reused booster, though, illustrated NASA’s growing acceptance of reused rockets. “Even though I was often enthusiastic about using flown @SpaceX boosters on principle and also the impression on mission value, I have improved my impression about them slightly: I now Desire beforehand made use of boosters around completely new kinds for most science apps,” tweeted Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA affiliate administrator for science, shortly just after the launch of the commercial Ax-1 mission to the ISS April 8, which also made use of a previously flown booster.


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