update: Despite no plans for a prevented static fire, SpaceX remains on track to attempt the last launch and landing in 2020 as early as 9 a.m. EST (14:00 UTC) on Thursday, December 17th.
After performing a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) and booster static fire Before each launch in September 2016, SpaceX gradually began to weaken the requirement for proven flight missiles in 2020. Conversely, if a previous flight or post-flight inspection reveals problems, static fires will serve more as a diagnostic tool based on on data. . For proven flight recalls, with a clean health note, so to speak, SpaceX seems confident enough to skip the procedure at a few internal Starlink launches and the customer’s strange mission.
Now, despite the fact that NROL-108 begins the first direct launch contract of the NRO with SpaceX and the first flight on a Falcon 9 rocket proven to be of any kind, let alone the four-flight booster assigned to support it, the intelligence agency seems to has the same faith in SpaceX. Falcon 9 B1059, a new upper stage and payload and unspecified payload NROL-108 became vertical at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) 39A Launch Complex on December 16 – far too late for any WDR or static fire test before a launch attempt in early December 17.
The mission will be the 26th and last launch of SpaceX in 2020 and – except for one major surprise – the last US orbital launch of the year. As usual, SpaceX will broadcast the launch live, with coverage starting approximately 15 minutes before takeoff (8:45 am EST / UTC-5).
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) says SpaceX is on track to try the latest Falcon 9 launch and landing of the year after a nearly two-month delay.
Originally planned for launch in October, the launch plans of the secret orbital intelligence agency NROL-108 were quietly revealed in SpaceX’s routine communications authorization applications to the FCC. Unfortunately, these plans came at a time when a Falcon 9 booster engine problem interrupted the launch of SpaceX at the last second and forced the company to go through a quick but extensive investigation into the anomalies. As it turns out, the Falcon 9 booster assigned to support NROL-108 (B1059) was practically brothers with the three new boomers affected by the investigation.
SpaceX may have had to change some of the nine Merlin 1D engines on the B1059, although a much less likely outcome, given that the B1059 successfully completed four launches and landings at that time. Finally, although nothing is known for sure, problems with the payload with the NROL-108 satellite (s) are the most likely cause of the majority of the eight-week delay that followed. Now, confirmed by the NRO on December 14, SpaceX is scheduled to launch the second mission for the intelligence agency no earlier than (NET) 9:00 – 12:00 EST (14: 00-17: 00 UTC) Thursday, December 17 .
For SpaceX, this will be the third time in a single month that a customer has actually managed to overcome several milestones of reusing the Falcon 9 booster, once again demonstrating extreme confidence in the company’s expertise with proven rocket launchers. On December 6, the Falcon 9 Booster B1058 took off for the fourth time in support of NASA’s CRS-21 SpaceX space station supply mission, marking the first launch of the space agency on a or booster three times.
On December 13, carrying a large communications satellite for the Sirius XM, another Falcon 9 booster took off for the seventh time, becoming the first private customer to launch a SpaceX rocket with five or six flights.
Just four days after the SXM-7, SpaceX is now scheduled to launch the mysterious NROL-108 mission. It will be the first time the NRO has launched a payload on a commercial rocket of any kind proven flight, as well as the first launch on a two-flight, three-flight or four-flight booster – by far the largest numerical number jump it has ever made. ever a SpaceX client. The first and only SpaceX launch of the NRO – technically contracted by the spacecraft supplier Bell Aerospace, not by the NRO itself – was completed in May 2017.
Although less significant, the NROL-108 will also be the first U.S. government launch of SpaceX for a four-flight Falcon 9 amplifier, another indication that even the most conservative customers have fully purchased the value and technical viability. of reusable missiles.
After launch, the Falcon 9 B1059 will turn and head to the Florida coast for a landing at one of SpaceX’s two east coast landing areas. Unfolding a minute or so after the booster separates, the two hull halves of the Falcon 9 are expected to splash over a range of 330 km (~ 205 mi), where the SpaceX GO Search and GO Ms Tree recovery ships will attempt recovery.