Moon rocket launch looms as NASA evaluates hurricane damage
A NASA review is recommending that SpaceX launch a privately-funded rocket into space to send a NASA-funded communications research satellite into space in six months.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket would lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Complex 40 launch pad at 9:43 p.m. EDT March 11 carrying the NROL-76 satellite of the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
The 5,400-pound Falcon 9 also would send the company’s Dragon cargo capsule into orbit and fly it for a few days to provide a safe, weather-free return.
The rocket is expected to bring up to 100,000 pounds of high-tech payload to low-Earth orbit in the first flight, NASA spokesman Rich Strock said in an email.
The three major satellites NASA uses for weather forecasting, communications and GPS navigation have been in their orbit for about 10 years.
They are the only major NASA payloads to remain in place for that long in an essentially static orbit. All three are expendable, meaning they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere when their life runs out.
The NROL-76 satellite was selected in December by NASA, and SpaceX in mid-July named the rocket for the satellite system. That was followed by the launch of the Falcon 9 on its maiden voyage to the coast of Florida, the first test of the vehicle and its payload.
The Falcon 9 launches would take advantage of SpaceX’s new Grasshopper rocket engine, which would bring launch costs down by hundreds of millions of dollars at launchpad-based companies. It also would reduce the potential for rocket failure in low Earth orbit by up to 80 percent, from as much as 20 percent before development of the engine began.
NASA wants to reduce the number of launches that will use the rocket, which still can launch four to six times a year.
The agency has already used Grasshopper to launch smaller experiments, including a tiny satellite called MESSENGER, which was launched by one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9s in the first half of 2015.
The NROL-76 satellite is part of a $1.5 billion,