SpaceX wins US Air Force contract for Falcon Heavy launch

Enlarge  The Falcon Heavy rocket took off at 3:45pm ET Tuesday Feb. 6 with all 27 engines

Enlarge The Falcon Heavy rocket took off at 3:45pm ET Tuesday Feb. 6 with all 27 engines

Hawthorne, a company founded by Elon Musk, will launch the Air-Force Space Command-52 satellite to its intended orbit, according to the contract, that includes also vehicle production and integration, launch operations and spaceflight activities.

The certification happened on June 21, while Falcon Heavy's second flight with the Air Force's Space Test Program Flight 2 was scheduled in October.

The announcement did not name the other party, but a report surmised it could be ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The classified mission is set for sometime in late fiscal year 2020, and is planned to be launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the service said.

The Falcon Heavy rocket is essentially three Falcon 9 cores strapped together, and its much lower price threatens the future of the ULA Delta IV heavy. At the time, Musk claimed that an average ULA launch cost $225 million while SpaceX could do the job for less than $100 million. While Space X has worked on military projects since 2016, this will be its first national security payload.

Coming after just one test flight of the Falcon Heavy, this is big news because the space company is yet to actually carry out any missions using the vehicle yet.

Falcon Heavy clears the top of the strongback in a spectacular fashion.

Falcon Heavy garnered widespread public attention during its maiden launch in February.

'The Falcon Heavy launch turned heads in February, but SpaceX's rocket is a smaller type of rocket that can't meet Nasa's deep-space needs, ' the website reads.

It's somewhere between hard and impossible to accurately compare the different payloads and launches of the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), but SpaceX's only competitor ULA was awarded a contract for the launch of two relatively different AFSPC payloads at an average (fixed) cost of $175 million per mission. SpaceX expects the work for the contract to be complete in around two years.

"SpaceX is pleased to continue offering the American taxpayer the most cost-effective, reliable launch services for vital national security space missions", said Shotwell.

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