NASA has chosen SpaceX to launch the final geostationary weather satellite in a set of the geostationary weather satellites previously flown by the United Launch Alliance. On September 10th, NASA gave SpaceX a contract to deploy Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) U spaceship with the Falcon Heavy rocket. The launch is set for April 2024 from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The contract is for $152.5 million, according to the agency.
The GOES-U satellite is the fourth and final of the GOES-R family of satellites that monitor Earth and space weather from the geostationary orbit. GOES-R was dubbed GOES-16 in November 2016 and launched from the GOES-East slot at about 75 degrees west in the GEO. In March 2018, GOES-S was launched as GOES-17, and it operates from the GOES-West slot at about 137 degrees west. GOES-T is set to debut in January 2022, replacing GOES-17, which has had issues with its principal instrument, Advanced Baseline Imager.
GOES-R and GOES-S were launched on Atlas 5 satellites, while GOES-T is set to deploy on an Atlas 5 satellite. The reason for choosing SpaceX to launch GOES-U was not disclosed in the NASA contract announcement. The GOES-U contract is marginally less expensive than the $165.7 million GOES-T launch contract awarded to ULA in 2019 December.
According to ULA spokesperson Jessica Rye, the business dropped its bid to deploy GOES-U due to a lack of Atlas 5 vehicles. “We have to withdraw our offer for NASA’s GOES-U launch service since all of the other 29 spacecraft have been sold to clients for future launches,” she said.
ULA plans to switch to the Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will make its first flight in 2022. After a last sequence of contracts revealed earlier this year, including an order for 9 Atlas 5 deployments by Amazon in the month of April to deploy part of the Project Kuiper broadband network, Tory Bruno, CEO of ULA, has stated that the firm is no longer providing the Atlas 5.
Bruno said during a panel discussion at the Satellite 2021 event on September 9 that the business does not expect to order further Russian-manufactured RD-180 engines which will be for Atlas 5 first stage. He stated, “I have purchased all of the RD-180s we need for the Atlas 5.” “Only 29 Atlases remain. All of the RD-180s have been safely stored in an Alabama warehouse. I believe that’s all I’ll need to make a smooth transition to Vulcan.”
The GOES-U award adds to SpaceX’s expanding Falcon Heavy launch backlog. In July, NASA gave SpaceX a contract to launch the Europa Clipper expedition to Jupiter’s frozen, potentially habitable moon Europa, which is also set to launch in 2024. The Psyche asteroid expedition, the first two components of lunar Gateway, as well as Gateway Logistics Services deal, in which SpaceX will launch two Dragon XL spacecraft to transfer supplies to the lunar Gateway using the Falcon Heavy.