The 45th Space Wing successfully launched a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle September 7, 2017, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.
Approximately eight minutes after the launch, SpaceX successfully landed the Falcon 9 first-stage booster at Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Brigadier General Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander, thanked the entire Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) mission team for their efforts in ensuring a successful launch.
«I’m incredibly proud of the 45th Space Wing’s contributions to the X-37B program», Monteith said. «This marks the fifth successful launch of the OTV and its first onboard a Falcon 9. A strong relationship with our mission partners, such as the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, is vital toward maintaining the Eastern Range as the world’s premiere gateway to space».
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), with operations overseen by Air Force Space Command’s 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron. The OTV is designed to demonstrate reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operate experiments, which can be returned to and examined on Earth.
Experimental test vehicle
9 feet, 6 inches/2.9 meters
29 feet, 3 inches/8.9 meters
14 feet, 11 inches/4.5 meters
11,000 pounds/4,990 kilograms
Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket delivered NROL-76 to orbit.
SpaceX launched NROL-76 from historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The two-hour launch window opened on Sunday, April 30, at 7:00 a.m. EDT, or 11:00 UTC. A backup launch window opened on Monday, May 1, at 7:00 a.m. EDT, or 11:00 UTC. The backup launch window was used.
Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
NROL-76 launched on Falcon 9, a two-stage rocket designed from the ground up by SpaceX for the reliable and cost-efficient transport of satellites and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.
As the first rocket completely developed in the 21st century, Falcon 9 was designed from the beginning for maximum reliability. Falcon 9’s simple two-stage configuration minimizes the number of separation events – and with nine first stage engines, it can safely complete its mission even in the event of an engine shutdown.
Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has a long and storied history dating back to the early 1960s. Originally built to support the Apollo program, LC-39A supported the first Saturn V launch (Apollo 4), and many subsequent Apollo missions, including Apollo 11 in July 1969.
Beginning in the late 1970s, LC-39A was modified to support Space Shuttle launches, hosting the first and last shuttle missions to orbit in 1981 and 2011 respectively.
In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease with NASA for the use of historic Launch Complex 39A. Since then, the company has made significant upgrades to modernize the pad’s structures and ground systems, while also preserving its important heritage.
Extensive modifications to LC-39A have been made to support launches of both commercial and crew missions on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.
Rocket Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with first Top Secret Mission NROL-76
Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, has announced the certification of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation’s (SpaceX) Falcon 9 Launch System for national security space missions.
SpaceX is now eligible for award of qualified national security space launch missions as one of two currently certified launch providers. The first upcoming opportunity for SpaceX to compete to provide launch services is projected to be in June when the Air Force releases a Request for Proposal for GPS III launch services.
«This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense», said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. «SpaceX’s emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade. Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency».
This milestone is the culmination of a significant two-year effort on the part of the Air Force and SpaceX to execute the certification process and reintroduce competition into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The Air Force invested more than $60 million and 150 people in the certification effort which encompassed 125 certification criteria, including more than 2,800 discrete tasks, 3 certification flight demonstrations, verifying 160 payload interface requirements, 21 major subsystem reviews and 700 audits in order to establish the technical baseline from which the Air Force will make future flight worthiness determinations for launch.
«The SpaceX and SMC teams have worked hard to achieve certification», said Greaves. «And we’re also maintaining our spaceflight worthiness process supporting the National Security Space missions. Our intent is to promote the viability of multiple EELV-class launch providers as soon as feasible».
Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Lead Designer, stated, «This is an important step toward bringing competition to National Security Space launch. We thank the Air Force for its confidence in us and look forward to serving it well».
The certification process provides a path for launch-service providers to demonstrate the capability to design, produce, qualify, and deliver a new launch system and provide the mission assurance support required to deliver national security space satellites to orbit. This gives the Air Force confidence that the national security satellites being delivered to orbit will safely achieve the intended orbits with full mission capability.
The SMC, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the U.S. Air Force’s center for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes GPS, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.
With its nine first-stage Merlin engines clustered together, Falcon 9 can sustain up to two engine shutdowns during flight and still successfully complete its mission