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June's GPSIII Launch Will Use a Previously Flown Booster Rocket

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A "non-recurring design validation" of a previously flown SpaceX Falcon 9 booster will be completed by the end of this month, in time to carry the next GPSIII satellite aloft, according to U.S. Space Force executive officer.

The booster, which launched GPSIII-o4 in November, is expected to carry up the fifth GPS satellite sometime in June. The SV05 launch will be the first mission under the national security space launch program to use a refurbished Falcon 9 booster. The Lockheed Martin-made satellite currently resides at Cape Canaveral, awaiting encapsulation.

After the November 5 launch, the booster rocket landed on a drone ship and was recovered by SpaceX. U.S. Space Force contracts with SpaceX for GPS SV05 and SV06 were renegotiated to allow reused boosters, saving the government about $64 million, according to reports. "I am thrilled to welcome SpaceX's innovative reuse into the National Security Space Launch program," said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, in September 2020 when the agreement was announced.

Launch photo by Jason Davidson, courtesy U.S. Apace Force. Recovery drone ship photo courtesy SpaceX.

The design validation of the used rocket is being done by The Aerospace Corp. "Aerospace has been at the forefront in defining standards and criteria for reuse and our team is actively engaged in reuse non-recurring design validation (NRDV)," according to a company statement.

SpaceX has recovered and reused rocket hardware from commercial and NASA launches at least 75 times, according to the company. Re-use is a new concept for national security launches such as GPS.

Lockheed Martin is producing four more GPSIII satellites (7 through 10) but the launches have not been awarded yet. That process will take place under Phase 2 of the National Security Space Launch program. United Launch Alliance and SpaceX will compete head-to-head for all Phase 2 missions.

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