SpaceX NRO Mission

SpaceX’s On a Secret NRO Mission for Its Final Launch in 2020

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Space transportation has made some remarkable marks during this year in comparison to that of 2018. SpaceX’s innovation is a leading factor in the increased number of commercial space launches. Here’s a breakdown of its big launch finale for 2020 in collaboration with NRO.

SpaceX’s Final Commercial Launch

The National Reconnaissance Office is using SpaceX’s commercial launch service for its NROL-108 Mission, aimed to deliver a spy satellite. 

NRO announced liftoff from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is scheduled for December 17 during a three-hour launch window opening at 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT).

Despite the attempt, the countdown was aborted. Recycling was not an option and the mission was rescheduled for tomorrow within the same timeframe.

The mission includes a recovery attempt for the first-stage booster used on the Falcon 9 vehicle.This first stage booster has already flown four times previously.

As per usual, SpaceX will broadcast the launch live, with coverage beginning around 15 minutes prior to liftoff (8:45 am EST/UTC-5).

Weather conditions seem agreeable for the Space Coast’s last launch, despite Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron saying that “The primary weather concern for Thursday is liftoff winds and the thick cloud layer rule associated with any lingering frontal cloudiness.”

Mission Timeline

Based on the mission timeline published by SpaceX, Falcon 9′s 162-foot first stage booster will separate from the second stage at T+2 minutes 22 seconds. 

The Falcon 9’s second stage will ignite its engine at T+plus 2 minutes, 30 seconds, followed by jettison of the rocket’s clamshell like payload shroud at T+plus 2 minutes, 41 seconds. 

The nose shroud will fall away once the Falcon 9 reaches space, revealing the mission’s classified cargo after climbing above the dense, lower layers of the atmosphere, during which the live streaming will be cut off.

Upon descent toward the Cape, residents and spectators should be prepared for hearing triple sonic booms generated by the booster. 

Unorthodox Methods

Two things are being carried out differently in this mission. SpaceX’s drone ships will not be employed, and standard procedure for inspection won’t be standard this time around.

Normally, the two drone landing ships positioned out in the ocean would recover the rocket boosters all the way back to land. This time around, SpaceX will attempt a landing back at its landing pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Another rare occurrence is skipping the booster static fire. SpaceX and NRO are both confident enough to carry on with this mission despite unorthodox procedures taking place.

Still, the team remains highly cautious on the ground and stresses focus upon countdown. If anything is even remotely suspicious, the team holds the countdown.

Perhaps from now on, we should expect some flexibility around standard procedure in space transportation.

SpaceX, NRO, and Commercial Space Flight

Unlike some of their missions, the NRO procured this specific launch on its own without disclosing information to the U.S. Space Force’s National Security Space Launch program.

“The NRO uses a variety of methods to procure launch services in support of the agency’s overhead reconnaissance mission, to include partnering with U.S. Space Force under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program,” an NRO spokesperson said in response to questions from Spaceflight Now.

“In some cases, the NRO uses alternative methods to procure launch services after making a cumulative assessment of satellite risk tolerance, needed launch dates, available launch capabilities, and cost — all with a purpose of ensuring satellites are safely and securely delivered to orbit in a timely manner,” the spokesperson said.

We have become accustomed to seeing private satellite operators booking SpaceX and purchasing rides for their missions. The NRO followed the same procedure and deemed this launch commercial based. The U.S. government launch contracts cost more and come with extra oversight along with other additional costs.

When a privately-owned payload is being deployed on a commercial space flight, the Federal Aviation Administration has regulatory oversight over the mission.This collaboration is not a first. Back in 2017, SpaceX dedicated its first commercial launch with the spy satellite agency.

Falcon 9; A Stepping Stone In Space Transportation

Reusable rockets such as Falcon 9 have been of major aid in accelerating the growth of space transportation.

Falcon 9’s descent would mark SpaceX’s 26th final launch of 2020, exceeding the number of missions in 2018 by 5 times.

Also, the FAA will reap its 38th licensed commercial space launch, surpassing its mark of 33 missions in 2018.

“The future for this industry is no longer conjecture, prognostication and wishful thinking,” said Wayne Monteith, the FAA’s associate administrator for space transportation. “It demonstrates accelerated growth. It is an increase in cadence on steroids.”

Indeed, from back-to-back space transportation to commercial launches of payloads and astronauts, the current present of this industry is booming. And its future? Well, we’ll leave it up to you to describe in the comments below.


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