Satellite Technology Feature Article
SpaceX Wins with U.S. Air Force, Falcon Heavy
By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor
SpaceX (News - Alert) has its foot in the Department of Defense's door, with commitments to launch satellites on the company's Falcon 9 medium rocket and the larger Falcon Heavy. The latter vehicle is starting to pick up steam with a booked Intelsat (News - Alert) launch and incorporation into Golden Spike's plans for commercial manned lunar landings.
The United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center has awarded SpaceX two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class missions . The DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) will be launched onboard a Falcon 9 in late 2014. STP-2 (Space Test Program 2) will be launched onboard a Falcon Heavy with a targeted date of mid-2015. Both are expected to launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Both missions were awarded under the Orbital/Suborbital Program 3 (OSP-3 contract, an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quality contract for the U.S. Air Force). OSP-3 is the first Air Force contract designed to provide "new entrants" and competition to the EELV program formerly dominated by United Launch Alliance (ULA) and its Atlas V and Delta IV vehicles.
DSCOVR, designed to monitor Earth and space weather, requires a Falcon 9 to deliver the satellite to the L1 gravitation point between the Sun and the Earth out around 932,057 miles from Earth. The DSCOVER program is a partnership between the U.S. Air Force, NASA, and NOAA, with the satellite providing advanced warning of space weather events that will impact both civilian and military activities.
STP-2 has a number of payloads it will carry into orbit, with two primary satellites and two orbital insertions planned. The COSMIC-2 (Constellation Observation System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate-2) satellite will be put into low Earth orbit to monitor climate behavior. DSX (Demonstration and Scientific Experiments (DSX) will be delivered into medium-Earth orbit to conduct radiation research for the Department of Defense . A number of cubesats and auxiliary payloads mounted on an EELV secondary payload adopter will be deployed at both insertion points.
The pair of launches will support U.S. Air Force EELV certification for both the Falcon9 and the Falcon Heavy. Falcon Heavy is expected to take its first flight in the second half of 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base California.
Back in May, Intelsat signed up to be the first commercial customer for Falcon Heavy. A date for the launch wasn't set, but the mission is expected to take place from Cape Canaveral and put a communications satellite into geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO). SES (News - Alert) announced in September that it would launch three at least three satellites on the Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy.
Further down the road, Golden Spike would use a pair of Falcon Heavy launches to conduct commercial manned lunar landings. One launch would put an unmanned lunar lander into orbit around the Moon while the second would deliver a two man crew into lunar orbit for rendezvous with lander, followed by a descent to the lunar surface.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman