Author Topic: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION  (Read 79449 times)

Online oldAtlas_Eguy

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #20 on: 05/20/2016 05:18 PM »
There hasn't been a need for military LV certification until Spacex came along.NRO has bought Atlas III, Minotaurs, etc
So you are saying we don't really have much insight into what kind of procurement guidelines might have been at play here, and can't really infer anything about the payload... which does seem par for the course for NRO birds.
Historically there are no procurement guidelines when the National Security card is used. They don't have to procure LVs through the AF they just do it for convenience.

Since the F9 was not yet certified they could not do normal AF procurement through a competition so they would have to do it direct.

A historical precedent I know about is the Atlas H. The black small SSO sat program (NRO) paid for its development (direct contracts) modified the pad and everything else without using any AF funds. They did this in 18 months from start to launch The contracts were sole source and not even by a normal proposal method but as a contract mod to existing contract for services they had with the target companies. The mod was many times the size of the original contract. Mods can be done in as little as 30 days. This one took 90 days to put on contract.

If NRO wants to do something and fast they can. They can through the FAR out the window.

Offline macpacheco

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #21 on: 05/20/2016 08:59 PM »
Humm why people assume this has to be a Falcon Heavy mission ?
Don't those birds go into LEO / Polar orbits ?
Aren't those in the sub 9 ton class ?
Those are all educated guesses based on a quick Google search.

It seems there are four major classes of US Govt birds:
  The big GEO COMM birds which clearly fall into Falcon Heavy type payloads
  Intel birds which would make far more sense in LEO/Polar orbits, those seem fairly easy Falcon 9 launches
  GPS, which are low enough in mass that an upgrade Falcon 9 might be able to put them all the way into a MEO orbit, but with DoD margin requirements might end up with SpaceX tasked with delivering them into a "MEO transfer orbit"
  Fairly heavy Polar orbit birds too, those would probably be Falcon Heavy type launches too

Why the assumption NROL-76 requires a Falcon Heavy launch ?
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Offline gongora

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #22 on: 05/20/2016 09:16 PM »
Humm why people assume this has to be a Falcon Heavy mission ?
Don't those birds go into LEO / Polar orbits ?
Aren't those in the sub 9 ton class ?
Those are all educated guesses based on a quick Google search.

It seems there are four major classes of US Govt birds:
  The big GEO COMM birds which clearly fall into Falcon Heavy type payloads
  Intel birds which would make far more sense in LEO/Polar orbits, those seem fairly easy Falcon 9 launches
  GPS, which are low enough in mass that an upgrade Falcon 9 might be able to put them all the way into a MEO orbit, but with DoD margin requirements might end up with SpaceX tasked with delivering them into a "MEO transfer orbit"
  Fairly heavy Polar orbit birds too, those would probably be Falcon Heavy type launches too

Why the assumption NROL-76 requires a Falcon Heavy launch ?

I'm not sure people assumed it requires a Falcon Heavy launch, it's just that whenever a really vague mission is announced some people want it to be a FH launch  :D  Plus there was the coincidence of having an Air Force FH launch already announced that same month, which has space for some small payloads.  Personally I'm assuming some not too terribly expensive (for a satellite) prototype or pathfinder type payload launching on F9.

Offline rcoppola

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #23 on: 05/20/2016 09:55 PM »
It would be ironic if after all the discussion about Vertical Integration, it turns out the NRO is testing additional architectures that won't require it. Perhaps it's more clear why SpaceX is seemingly unconcerned about VI. Or at least additional info as to why they are in no rush to build that capability. They're maybe more launches both now and in the future that won't need it than we realized. And I'd bet the NRO is keeping a close eye (no pun intended) on those F9 cores that continue to pile up.
« Last Edit: 05/20/2016 09:57 PM by rcoppola »
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Offline the_other_Doug

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #24 on: 05/21/2016 12:46 AM »
Um... polar orbit would have to launch out of Vandenberg, right?  Last I heard, Vandenberg isn't configured to support FH launches.  For the time being, AIUI, the only launch complex that will support FH launches will be LC-39A at KSC, right?

So, if this is to be a polar orbit NROL mission, I'd have to guess it will be on an F9 out of Vandenberg.  Any non-polar orbit mission, I can maybe see an FH.  Maybe.  But I'd be surprised, I guess, if DoD decided to give a launch contract to SpaceX for a booster that has not yet flown.
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Offline Newton_V

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #25 on: 05/21/2016 12:52 AM »
It's not an FH.

Offline macpacheco

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #26 on: 05/21/2016 02:44 AM »
That's right we can rule Polar orbit out.
So it's probably a LEO bird. Probably a lighter load than the last CRS launch.
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Offline sewebster

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #27 on: 05/21/2016 02:55 AM »
My understanding is that some reconnaissance satellites are quite massive... ~ 20000 kg? Still within F9 LEO performance on their website, possibly expendable.

Offline macpacheco

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #28 on: 05/21/2016 03:27 AM »
My understanding is that some reconnaissance satellites are quite massive... ~ 20000 kg? Still within F9 LEO performance on their website, possibly expendable.
And just because one of those massed 20 tons 15-20 years ago, isn't there some Moore's law shrinking some of those components down ?
Even they aren't shrinking in weight, anyhow, the NSA apparently has different size birds. The big ones are probably their pride n' joy, SpaceX will have to prove themselves before they get launch contracts for the big (and very expensive) ones.
I see a progression of bigger and bigger breadcrumbs SpaceX is earning.
First some low risk mission like the STP-2. Then GPS III launches. Then lower cost DoD birds (I guess NROL-76 is one of them). Probably one or two more steps until SpaceX is qualified to launch anything DoD has. Big GEO comm birds last.
« Last Edit: 05/21/2016 03:28 AM by macpacheco »
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Offline Comga

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #29 on: 05/21/2016 03:33 AM »
Um... polar orbit would have to launch out of Vandenberg, right?  Last I heard, Vandenberg isn't configured to support FH launches.  For the time being, AIUI, the only launch complex that will support FH launches will be LC-39A at KSC, right?

(snip)

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Offline sewebster

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #30 on: 05/21/2016 03:36 AM »
Even they aren't shrinking in weight, anyhow, the NSA apparently has different size birds. The big ones are probably their pride n' joy, SpaceX will have to prove themselves before they get launch contracts for the big (and very expensive) ones.

Yeah, I'm sure they have a variety, and it seems the trend is towards more/cheaper/smaller. I think the point I was trying to make was just that some of them are/were large... so it wasn't a given that it was trivial for F9 to launch.

Online kevin-rf

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #31 on: 05/21/2016 12:27 PM »
My understanding is that some reconnaissance satellites are quite massive... ~ 20000 kg? Still within F9 LEO performance on their website, possibly expendable.
And just because one of those massed 20 tons 15-20 years ago, isn't there some Moore's law shrinking some of those components down ?
Food for thought, the now canceled FIA-O satellites where supposed to be launched on an Atlas, unlike the previous KH-11 which require a Delta Heavy. Now lockheed has the contract to replace the KH-11 with something. Only time tell what it will launch on. WAG, but based on the FIA-O experience, it may not need a heavy.
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Offline Jim

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #32 on: 05/21/2016 02:00 PM »
1.  And just because one of those massed 20 tons 15-20 years ago, isn't there some Moore's law shrinking some of those components down ?
2.  Even they aren't shrinking in weight, anyhow, the NSA apparently has different size birds. The big ones are probably their pride n' joy, SpaceX will have to prove themselves before they get launch contracts for the big (and very expensive) ones.
I see a progression of bigger and bigger breadcrumbs SpaceX is earning.
3.  First some low risk mission like the STP-2. Then GPS III launches. Then lower cost DoD birds (I guess NROL-76 is one of them). Probably one or two more steps until SpaceX is qualified to launch anything DoD has. Big GEO comm birds last.

1.  Doesn't apply to optics and propellant

2.  NSA doesn't have birds

3.  Not until larger fairings and vertical integration.

Offline dante2308

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #33 on: 05/21/2016 02:04 PM »
My understanding is that some reconnaissance satellites are quite massive... ~ 20000 kg? Still within F9 LEO performance on their website, possibly expendable.

This was procured long before SpaceX could promise 20,000 kg to LEO on the F9.

Offline Jcc

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #34 on: 05/21/2016 02:37 PM »
1.  And just because one of those massed 20 tons 15-20 years ago, isn't there some Moore's law shrinking some of those components down ?
2.  Even they aren't shrinking in weight, anyhow, the NSA apparently has different size birds. The big ones are probably their pride n' joy, SpaceX will have to prove themselves before they get launch contracts for the big (and very expensive) ones.
I see a progression of bigger and bigger breadcrumbs SpaceX is earning.
3.  First some low risk mission like the STP-2. Then GPS III launches. Then lower cost DoD birds (I guess NROL-76 is one of them). Probably one or two more steps until SpaceX is qualified to launch anything DoD has. Big GEO comm birds last.

1.  Doesn't apply to optics and propellant

2.  NSA doesn't have birds

3.  Not until larger fairings and vertical integration.

Regarding 1., improved sensors can make use of smaller optics, and adaptive optics. Also SEP greatly reduces propellant weight. Granted, they may still design for the maximum size/weight anyway, just because they can.

Online llanitedave

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #35 on: 05/21/2016 03:04 PM »
1.  And just because one of those massed 20 tons 15-20 years ago, isn't there some Moore's law shrinking some of those components down ?
2.  Even they aren't shrinking in weight, anyhow, the NSA apparently has different size birds. The big ones are probably their pride n' joy, SpaceX will have to prove themselves before they get launch contracts for the big (and very expensive) ones.
I see a progression of bigger and bigger breadcrumbs SpaceX is earning.
3.  First some low risk mission like the STP-2. Then GPS III launches. Then lower cost DoD birds (I guess NROL-76 is one of them). Probably one or two more steps until SpaceX is qualified to launch anything DoD has. Big GEO comm birds last.

1.  Doesn't apply to optics and propellant

2.  NSA doesn't have birds

3.  Not until larger fairings and vertical integration.

Regarding 1., improved sensors can make use of smaller optics, and adaptive optics. Also SEP greatly reduces propellant weight. Granted, they may still design for the maximum size/weight anyway, just because they can.


Adaptive optics are useful on ground-based optical systems when the source of air turbulence is fairly close at hand.  They're not so useful on space-based systems, where the turbulence is near the source of the image.


Also, the laws of physics set a hard limit on the resolution of an optical system according to its size.  Improved sensors can more efficiently gather light, but they can't overcome fundamental limits on resolution.  Only larger objectives can do that.
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Offline Jim

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #36 on: 05/21/2016 03:11 PM »

Regarding 1., improved sensors can make use of smaller optics, and adaptive optics.

2. Also SEP greatly reduces propellant weight. Granted, they may still design for the maximum size/weight anyway, just because they can.

1.  Any improvements would be to used make better than the existing status

2.  Too slow to make "quick" changes

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Anyone trying to guess what that thingy is? Given the capabilities of the F9 and the launch date, I'm betting on it being a SDS data relay bird - the last one was launched 2 years ago and the series seems to have a new bird going up every 2-3 years or so.

It could also be a NOSS duo (which can be launched from both coasts) - but there's already a candidate launch mission in the same period (NROL-79 from VAFB - the one the SpaceX tried to bid and missed out).
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Offline the_other_Doug

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #38 on: 05/21/2016 06:41 PM »
Um... polar orbit would have to launch out of Vandenberg, right?  Last I heard, Vandenberg isn't configured to support FH launches.  For the time being, AIUI, the only launch complex that will support FH launches will be LC-39A at KSC, right?

(snip)

[Jim]Yes, wrong, and no[/Jim] ;)

So, they'll be able to launch FH out of Vandenberg?  Great!  I had only heard, to my memory, that their Vandenberg pad is in the process of being upgraded to support the latest version of F9.  I had not heard that their facilities and pad there had been upgraded to support FH.  Kewl!

It's still the case that, in Florida, LC-39A will be the only pad that will support FH, though, right?
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Offline Skyrocket

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Re: SpaceX Falcon 9 - NROL-76 - NET April 30, 2017 - DISCUSSION
« Reply #39 on: 05/21/2016 07:37 PM »
Anyone trying to guess what that thingy is? Given the capabilities of the F9 and the launch date, I'm betting on it being a SDS data relay bird - the last one was launched 2 years ago and the series seems to have a new bird going up every 2-3 years or so.

It could also be a NOSS duo (which can be launched from both coasts) - but there's already a candidate launch mission in the same period (NROL-79 from VAFB - the one the SpaceX tried to bid and missed out).

SDS (QUASAR), both in GEO of HEO version, is IMHO a prime suspect. But NROL 61 to be launched this year is also a SDS suspect.

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