RADARSAT Constellation Mission to Fly on Refurbished SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket

President and CEO Howard Lance and members of the leadership team had the honor of ringing the closing bell at the @NYSE this afternoon. Credit: Maxar Technologies.

Maxar Technologies President and CEO Howard Lance was on CNBC this afternoon talking about the new company formed from the acquisition of DigitalGlobe by MDA. During the interview he said they would be using a refurbished SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle for the Canadian government RADARSAT Constellation Mission.

MDA, a business unit of Maxar Technologies, is currently completing the build phase of the three satellites that make up the RADARSAT Constellation. Early on in the project MDA had contracted SpaceX to launch the satellites.  They will all be launched at the same time using the refurbished SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage.

SpaceX has reused four of the Falcon 9’s first stages to date including today’s launch to the International Space Station on a cargo resupply mission.  Presumably Maxar will get a discount for opting to use the refurbished Falcon 9 first stage.

Maxar was also at the New York Stock Exchange today where they participated in the closing bell ritual. Maxar’s stock has been doing well since the formation of the new company.

The company also has a new Twitter account; https://twitter.com/MaxarTech.


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About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.


  1. Just a nitpick, I know — but without knowing when the launch will be, and what generation of first-stage booster it will be riding on, the term “refurbished” may well be inaccurate. I think a more accurate term would be “previously-flown” or SpaceX’s preferred term, “flight-proven.”

    • According to the Canadian Space Agency, this mission will launch sometime in 2018. I would deduce that they are able to get a short lead-time launch slot in 2018 is because they are willing to launch on a previously-flown Falcon 9. If they had insisted on flying on a brand-new booster they probably would have to wait until 2019 or 2020 to launch.

      Since the RADARSAT constellation is supposed to go to a 600km low-earth sun-synchronous orbit, pretty much any of the existing Block III and Block IV Falcon 9 boosters can do the mission. For SSO missions it will most likely launch from Vandenburg SLC-4E pad, and there are three flight-worthy previously-flown Falcon 9 cores available at Vandenburg they can choose from:

      – Block III B1036 (which will be flying Iridium-4 in a few weeks and probably can be reused again),
      – Block III B1038 (previously launched the very light Formosat 5 so it’s practically new), and
      – Block IV B1041 (Previously launched Iridium-3).

      These cores had only been used on LEO launches so they have not been subject to the harsh thermal stresses of the higher-energy GTO launches and can definitely be flown again with minimal refurbishment (just like the NASA CRS-13 booster re-flown today from Cape Canaveral).

      • The decision is made by MDA as per their contract with the CSA. The launch has been on the books for 2018. At this time it looks like the launch is scheduled for Q3. As long as SpaceX maintains its cadence the launch should not slip to Q4.

    • You are right in that it is previously flown and yes SpaceX likes the marketing term “flight proven.” However after the first stage is used and before it is reused it goes through testing with parts replaced etc.

      • Please don’t be defensive.

        All I’m saying is that the wording in the article is assuming RADARSAT will launch on older hardware, but since no first stage has been assigned yet, being so far out from launch, it may well launch on SpaceX’s newer Block 5 hardware, making the term “refurbished” innacurate.

        Not all first stages in the future will have parts replaced as you say. For some time, SpaceX has been developing Falcon 9 Block 5, which addresses some of NASA’s requests for Commercial Crew and SpaceX’s wants for greater reusability without refurbishment. This new block has been design-complete and approved by NASA since February 2017. [ Source, Gwynne Shotwell, COO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjXYSJF-7Cs ]

        Block 5 improves around 100 parts of the rocket, including a new turbine wheel NASA specifically requested, a revised landing leg design, and new forged titanium gridfins. Block 5 components have been tested and flown on missions this year.

        As designed, the Block 5 iteration should only require inspection, with no refurbishment scheduled until after the 10th landing. [ Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2017/04/04/musk-previews-busy-year-ahead-for-spacex/ ]

        Block 5 must be complete and stable and flown multiple times before NASA will certify it for human spaceflight, so SpaceX will be building as many as they can and flying them as often as they can to meet the Commercial Crew milestone schedule which was just recently presented.

        SpaceX is lining up resources for a very aggressive launch cadence next year, and Block 5 is part of that plan. If SpaceX rolls out Block 5 in Q1 as expected to meet it’s Commercial Crew timeline, you could well see RADARSAT launching on a reused Block 5 first stage, without any refurbishment, in Q3. So that’s why it “may well be inaccurate” to call it a “refurbished” stage.

        • No worry, I’m not being defensive. SpaceX will make a big deal of the block 5 when it’s first used. At the moment it has not been associated with this launch. I’m reporting what was said and where things stand now. If in the future SpaceX announces it will use a block 5 for this launch it will be reported here.

    • All of those terms are accurate. None are inaccurate.

  2. Semantics….

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