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Live coverage: SpaceX to launch Falcon 9 rocket with national security satellites from Cape Canaveral


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Dec 13, 2023
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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the U.S. Space Force (USSF)-124 payload of missile warning satellites for the Missile Defense Agency and Space Development Agency, completes being raised into its vertical launch position at Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida ahead of today’s scheduled 5:30 p.m. EST liftoff. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX is aiming to launch its eighth Falcon 9 rocket on a National Security Space Launch (NSSL) mission on Wednesday evening. The launch, named United States Space Force 124 (USSF-124) is targeting liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at the start of a four-hour launch window that opens at 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 UTC).

If the rest of the schedule holds, this will be the first of up to three launches for SpaceX planned within a nine-hour period of time. It’s also hoping to launch another batch of Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base and Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander overnight.

Live coverage of the USSF-124 mission begins about one hour prior to liftoff.

Onboard the Falcon 9 rocket are a batch of six satellites: two for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and four for the U.S. Space Forces’ Space Development Agency (SDA). The MDA’s satellites are part of its Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) program.

“This launch represents a pivotal time for MDA as we enter a new phase of missile warning, tracking and defense,” said Lt. Gen. Heath Collins, director of MDA, in a statement. “These HBTSS satellites are an essential step forward in our efforts to stay ahead of our adversaries.”

Back in 2021, L3Harris Technologies received a so-called Other Transaction Agreement award from the MDA worth up to $121.6 million for an on-orbit demonstration “of a space-based prototype sensor designed to track hypersonic and ballistic threats.” That was in addition to a $20 million contract awarded in 2019 to each of L3Harris, Raytheon Technologies, Northrop Grumman and Lidos to develop HBTSS payload concepts.

Similarly, Northrop Grumman received a $153 million award for its portion of the HBTSS program work.


According to Northrop Grumman, Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor satellites will provide continuous tracking and handoff to enable targeting of enemy missiles launched from land, sea or air. Graphic: Northrop Grumman

“When it comes to national safety, there’s no room for error,” said Sarah Willoughby, vice president, OPIR and geospatial systems, Northrop Grumman, in a 2021 statement following completion of a review campaign. “This critical design review puts Northrop Grumman on track to deliver a vital component of our missile defense architecture to keep the U.S. and its allies safe against hypersonic threats.”

These two satellites will be launched alongside four SDA Tranche 0 (T0) Tracking Layer satellites, which were built by L3Harris. The agency describes them as the final four that make up the test constellation for its Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA).

They will add to the 23 T0 satellites that SpaceX launched in 2023 on two Falcon 9 flights. Those satellites operate in what the SDA calls the Transport and Tracking layers.

“Launching our Tracking satellites into the same orbit with the MDA HBTSS satellites is a win for both agencies,” said Derek Tournear, director of SDA, in a statement. “We’ll be able to look at test targets from the same orbit at the same time, so that we can see how the two sensors work together. In Tranche 1, SDA will fly both sensor types as an operational system – medium-field-of-view demonstrating fire control, based on HBTSS design, and wide-field-of-view doing warning and tracking, based on T0 tracking design.”

During a call with media this week, a senior SDA official stated that the satellites would be launched into a near-equatorial orbit. Once the satellites are on orbit, they will undergo a few weeks of checkouts and preliminary testing, which will be followed by about two years of full testing.

Check out the Tranche 0 fact sheet on SDA's website for more info on what SDA has on orbit now and what is planned for our third Tranche 0 #PWSA launch. Link here: https://t.co/CJpRqYi6oB
#SemperThirdLaunch #SemperCitius #pLEO #Defense #Industry #Space #USSF pic.twitter.com/nbPLRLwKY6

— Space Development Agency (@SemperCitiusSDA) February 12, 2024

The planned Wednesday launch marks what will be the 11th NSSL mission for the Falcon family of rockets, according to the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC). It’s also the second launch as part of the NSSL Phase 2 contract awards.

Over the Course of five order years, SpaceX was issued a total of 22 missions worth a combined $2.5 billion. USSF-124 is part of order year three alongside USSF-62 and SDA-T1A, which are jointly worth $309.7 million.

The first mission launched under the NSSL Phase 2 contract for SpaceX was the USSF-67 mission, which launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket in January 2023. That was a $178.8 million mission as part of order year 1.

“We’re thrilled to have our team assembled here on the Space Coast, ready to launch the USSF-124 satellites,” said Col. Jim Horne, senior materiel leader for SSC’s Launch Execution Delta. “With each national security launch, we continue to strengthen America’s capabilities and its deterrence in the face of growing threats while adding stability to a very dynamic world. It’s what we do in the Space Force, and we take that charge seriously.”

A busy night for SpaceX​

SpaceX hopes to make the launch of USSF-124 the first of three between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

This East Coast launch will mark the 167th launch for SpaceX from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The booster supporting this mission, B1078, will be making its seventh launch, having previously supported the launch of NASA’s Crew-6, SES O3b mPOWER and four Starlink flights.


SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the U.S. Space Force (USSF)-124 payload of missile warning satellites for the Missile Defense Agency and Space Development Agency, rolls out to Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida ahead of today’s scheduled 5:30 p.m. EST launch. Image: SpaceX

Following stage separation, the B1078 will touch down at Landing Zone 2 at the Cape about 8 minutes after liftoff.

The 45th Weather Squadron forecast a better than 95 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at liftoff. It noted that both upper-level wind shear and solar activity were possible watch items though.

Following this mission, SpaceX turns its eyes to Vandenberg Space Force Base, where it hopes to launch another Falcon 9 rocket on the Starlink 7-14 mission. Finally, attention will come back to the Cape for another attempt at launching Intuitive Machines Moon-bound robotic lander named Odysseus early Thursday morning.
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