Despite the setbacks SpaceX has faced in recent months and subsequent inquiries into their fueling procedures, NASA has given a much-welcomed vote of confidence to the company by way of a new launch contract.
With a launch date set for April 2021, SpaceX will put NASA’s Surface Water and Ocean Topography vehicle (SWOT) into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. As described by NASA in its announcement of the contract, SWOT is “…designed to make the first-ever global survey of Earth’s surface water…[and]…collect detailed measurements of how water bodies on Earth change over time.”
The $112 million dollars that the contract is valued at is said to go to support the entirety of the operation, not the launch exclusively, including “spacecraft processing, payload integration and tracking, and data and telemetry support”.
SpaceX welcomed the good news in a tweet, stating “We appreciate @NASA’s support and confidence.”
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 22, 2016
In addition to the new launch contract, SpaceX is continuing to revamp NASA’s historic launch Pad 39A, the site of the Saturn V launches which took Americans to the moon, to use for the crewed Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. With its prior launch location of SLC-40 out of operation after the September 1st static fire test anomaly, Pad 39A will be used for cargo Falcon 9 before the others are in operation while repairs are made to SLC-40.
Falcon 9 is scheduled to return to flight from SpaceX’s launch facilities in Vandenberg in mid-December, and Pad 39A is scheduled for launches in January 2017.
NASA’s award announcement is a timely addition to the progress towards getting Falcon 9 back into orbit. Now that SpaceX has determined the cause of September’s static fire anomaly, all signs of confidence in their continuing ability to provide launch services are welcome.