SpaceX’s first U.S. military mission has been rescheduled a day later than its initial launch date. With less than one minute before lifting off, the SpaceX Falcon 9 mission, carrying the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-76 satellite, was canceled due to issues in one of the sensors in the rocket’s first stage. With the initial date scrapped, the NROL-76 would instead be sent to space on Monday at 7 a.m. ET from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The NROL-76 mission was a massive breakthrough for the private space agency. After years of courting the U.S. government for contracts, the SpaceX was able to receive its certification in 2015, and it has not stopped attempting to close a deal ever since. The NRO’s NROL-76 satellite would be the first SpaceX mission for the U.S. Department of Defense, according to a report from The Verge.
What is particularly remarkable about SpaceX’s NRO contract is the fact that it is the first U.S. military mission that would not be launched by United Launch Alliance, a joint effort by aviation leviathans Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Over the past decade, the ULA has held a full monopoly on U.S. military launches. That is, of course, until SpaceX was able to close the deal with the NRO’s NROL-76 satellite launch.
Falcon 9 and NROL-76 vertical on Pad 39-A. Launch window opens tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. EDT, 11:00 UTC. pic.twitter.com/9o3ZMbaev7
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 29, 2017
Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s chief of strategic alliances, stated that SpaceX’s contract with the NRO is a notable step forward for private space agencies. With firms such as SpaceX managing to get contracts from the U.S. government, there is a good chance that the satellite launching business would get more competitive, according to a report from the Orlando Sentinel.
“This satellite was going to launch from Florida anyway. But it reflects more competition. That will drive down prices and could result in it being cheaper to get into space, meaning more launches. Competition is a good thing.”
Justin Karl, a program coordinator at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Commercial Space Operations, agrees that SpaceX’s contract with the U.S. military is a significant step forward. Apart from making the space launch business more competitive, SpaceX’s mission with the NRO also served to break down the ongoing monopoly on US government satellite launches.
“It’s a very big deal. For government orbital launches, there are very few flight provider options. That is a huge segment of a changing market they have potentially captured.”
Static fire test complete. Targeting Falcon 9 launch of NROL-76 on Sunday, April 30. pic.twitter.com/mk0dQGj17o
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 25, 2017
While details about Monday’s launch are pretty much known at this point, the actual purpose of the NROL-76 satellite remains a mystery. Based on the organization behind the launch, it appears that the satellite would be utilized for surveillance purposes, but even these are but assumptions. So far, the only thing about the upcoming launch that has been made public is the official NROL-76 mission patch, which triggers a lot of speculations on its own.
The official mission patch for the NROL-76 mission depicts American historical icons Lewis and Clark seemingly preparing to embark on a grand expedition. The NRO’s official description of the mission patch stated that the two explorers are about to “discover and explore the newly purchased Louisiana Territory and report back to the National Command Authority (President Jefferson).” Since mission patches are usually related to the actual purpose of the satellite involved, the NRO’s description of the patch might be a clue about the mission’s goal.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch of the NRO’s NROL-76 satellite is scheduled for Monday 7 a.m. ET. While the time appears set, the rocket might launch as late as 9 a.m. ET due to additional preparations and calibrations. Considering that the weather for Monday morning at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, is expected to be clear, however, there is a good chance that SpaceX’s first U.S. military mission would finally launch without any more delays tomorrow morning.
[Featured Image by SpaceX]