SpaceX's Falcon Heavy to launch military satellites by 2020

James Marshall
June 22, 2018

SpaceX is getting deeper into the national security game, and this time it's bringing its biggest rocket. The military also awarded SpaceX a launch service contract amounting to $130 million.

SpaceX beat out one other competitor to land a $130 million launch contract with the U.S. Air Force using its Falcon Heavy rocket.

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. Of note, the vast majority of that mission's payload comes in the form of a 5000-kilogram ballast mass, included because the mission was manifested on Falcon Heavy (instead of the operational Falcon 9) for the sole goal of facilitating the rocket's rapid certification for critical Air Force missions.

The Falcon Heavy's next launch is set for later this year.

The contract includes the production of a launch vehicle, integration, launch operations, and spaceflight worthiness activities, according to the original bid notice.

With the SpaceX onboard, Air Force said the contract strikes a balance between satisfying the operational requirements and lower budgetary allocation.

An automated camera documents the Falcon Heavy rocket's first ascent from Kennedy Space Center in February with SpaceX's hangar in the foreground. The mission is scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The entire project is expected to be completed by September 2020.

SpaceX first disrupted ULA's long-held monopoly on military launch contracts with a contract win in 2016. The award is an important validation of the Falcon Heavy, one of the most powerful rockets ever made. The rocket can lift as much as 141,000 pounds of cargoes. Now, it seems clear that the Air Force was comfortable with data from the test flight in February and the more-than 50 flights of the Falcon 9 rocket that forms the three cores of each Falcon Heavy booster.

With regard to the contract won, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president, and COO, said the company is humbled to be of service to the taxpayers.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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