A SpaceX Falcon 9 is set to become the first commercial rocket to attempt to land after an operational launch for the US military, potentially paving the way for an even more significant milestone somewhere down the road.
Featuring brand new booster B1060 and a new upper stage and payload fairing, Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch the US military’s third upgraded GPS III satellite (PS III SV01) no earlier than (NET) 3:55 pm EDT (19:55 UTC) on June 30th. While it will be the second time a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket has lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Launch Complex 40 (LC-40) with a GPS III satellite in tow, the mission will mark a critical first for SpaceX and the US military. For the first GPS III mission, the US Air Force somewhat inexplicably required SpaceX to expend the new Falcon 9 booster assigned to the December 2018 launch.
The US military never offered a technical explanation for why Falcon 9 couldn’t land after launching a ~3900 kg (~8600 lb) GPS III SV01 to a medium orbit but could, for example, land after launching a dozen metric tons and two NASA astronauts. Regardless, the US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Command (SMC) has decided that SpaceX can now attempt to land Falcon 9’s first stage during the company’s second GPS III launch. A step further, on the eve of the mission, SMC has revealed that it may even be opening up to the idea of reusing SpaceX boosters on future military launches.