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SpaceX wins contract to launch weather satellite after ULA pulls out

WASHINGTON – NASA has chosen SpaceX to launch the last of a series of geostationary weather satellites previously launched by the United Launch Alliance.

NASA announced on September 10 that it had awarded a contract to SpaceX for the Falcon Heavy launch of its geostationary operational U spacecraft (GOES). The launch is scheduled for April 2024 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The value of the contract is $152.5 million, the agency said.

GOES-U is the fourth and final satellite in the GOES-R series of satellites, which monitors terrestrial and space weather from geostationary orbit. Launched in November 2016 and renamed GOES-16, GOES-R operates from the GOES East hatch at 75°W in GEO. GOES-S launched in March 2018 and became GOES-17, operating from the GOES West hatch at 137°W. GOES-T is scheduled to launch in January 2022 and will replace GOES-17 due to problems with this satellite’s main instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager.

Both GOES-R and GOES-S were launched on Atlas 5, and GOES-T is scheduled to launch on Atlas 5. The announcement of the NASA contract did not reveal why SpaceX chose to launch GOES-U. The value of the GOES-U contract is slightly less than the value of the December 2019 ULA contract for the launch of GOES-T, $165.7 million.

ULA spokeswoman Jessica Ray said the company withdrew its bid to launch GOES-U because it didn’t have any Atlas 5 vehicles available. “All of the remaining 29 rockets were sold to customers for future launches, so we had to withdraw our offer for NASA’s GOES-U launch service,” she said.

ULA is preparing to transition to the Vulcan Centaur rocket, whose inaugural launch is now slated for 2022. Tori Bruno, CEO of ULA, said recently that the company is no longer offering the Atlas 5 after the final series of contracts announced earlier this year, Such as Nine Atlas 5 ordered by Amazon in April To launch part of the Project Kuiper broadband constellation.

During a session at the Satellite 2021 conference on September 9, Bruno said the company does not expect to order additional Russian-made RD-180 engines used in the first stage of the Atlas 5. “I’ve bought all the RD-180s we need for the Atlas 5,” he said. “There are 29 Atlases left. All of those RD-180s are safely stashed in a warehouse in Alabama. I think that’s more than I need to smoothly transition to the Vulcan.”

The GOES-U win adds to a growing backlog of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launches. in july, NASA awards SpaceX a contract to launch the Europa Clipper mission to an icy moon potentially inhabited by Jupiter, also scheduled for 2024. Other NASA awards include the Psyche asteroid mission, the first two elements of the Moon Gate and the Gateway logistics contract, where SpaceX will use a Falcon Heavy to launch two rockets. The Dragon XL spacecraft to transport cargo to the lunar portal.

SpaceX too It won the Falcon Heavy contract from Astrobotic in April to launch the Griffin lander on the moon NASA’s VIPER spacecraft is being carried as part of the agency’s commercial lunar payload services program. The Falcon Heavy is part of the SpaceX National Security Phase Two launch contract awarded in August 2020, making the vehicle eligible for future national security launches.

The Falcon Heavy has been launched three times, all successfully, but the last launch was the Space Test Program 2 mission in June 2019. The next Falcon Heavy launch, on a mission for the designated US Space Force-44, is scheduled for no later than October. 9.

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