NASA announced yesterday that as part of its Launch Services contract (NLS II) with SpaceX it will add an additional configuration of the Falcon 9 rocket to its fleet. The new SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 launch service will be available for future missions in accordance with the on-ramp provision of NLS II contract.
NASA’s Launch Services Program, which operates out of the Kennedy Space Centre, is a way for the agency to acquire and manage expendable launch vehicle missions carrying NASA or NASA-sponsored payloads into orbit. Under the NLS program, NASA takes responsibility for launch and countdown operations, engineering and manufacturing vehicles, and adding an element of assurance to each launch. The program also makes it simpler for third party companies or government agencies, allowing them to launch without having acquire a commercial launch license.
In September 2010, the NLS program was extended by 10 years. NLS II will continue to provide the agency with competitive, commercial launch services to address customers’ needs. Customers like SpaceX, whose Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets were launched under the NLS program.
The NLS II contracts support the goals and objectives of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and the Office of the Chief Technologist.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is designed to carry medium to large satellite weighing up to 23,038 pounds into low Earth orbit or 10,009 pounds into geosynchronous orbit. It’s part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program that NASA hopes will see a commercial company take over Earth orbital launch capabilities and end the country’s dependence on Russia. The next Falcon 9 launch, currently set for Saturday May 19, is “a tricky one” according to the company’s founder Elon Musk. The rocket’s payload is a Dragon capsule that, if all goes according to plan, will deliver 1,200 pounds of cargo to astronauts on board the International Space Station during a three week mission.
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