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SpaceX Wins Its First Contract To Launch Classified Military Satellite On Falcon Heavy

Jun 28, 2018 04:19 AM EDT
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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX, had just landed a $130 million rocket launch contract under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) launch program with the military.

Falcon Heavy's Classified Air Force Mission

Elon Musk's SpaceX will be providing production and operations of its Falcon Heavy rocket that will deliver the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC-52) satellite to the intended location. The classified military mission is projected to launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida in 2020.

"The competitive award of this EELV launch service contract directly supports Space and Missile Systems Center's (SMC) mission of delivering resilient and affordable space capabilities to our nation while maintaining assured access to space," said the Space and Missile Systems Center commander Lt. Gen. John Thompson in a news release by the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy competed with the United Launch Alliance (ULA)'s Delta IV Heavy rocket for the contract award.

Falcon Heavy Versus Delta IV

Both rockets qualify in the heavy lift category, which requires a lift capacity of at least 20 metric tons. Here's how the Falcon Heavy beat the Delta IV Heavy to this mission: payload and cost.

Known as the world's most powerful operational rocket to date, Falcon Heavy can lift a load of about 64 metric tons or the equivalent of more than 700 loaded jetliners - twice the load capacity of Delta IV.

Speaking of rocket mass, the Falcon Heavy is 1,420 tonnes heavy despite being shorter than Delta IV, which weighs around 700 tonnes, by about two meters.

Falcon costs only around 130 million dollars while ULA's Delta IV costs about thrice as much.

Reducing Costs of Space Missions

Since SpaceX got certified for national security launch missions in May 2015, it ended the ULA's monopoly of US Air Force missions with its significantly reduced mission costs, albeit having a more disastrous launch record.

SpaceX landed its first classified mission with the National Reconnaissance Office in 2017. This mission is already its fifth procurement since it entered the public sector.

"We've saved money over time," Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, told SpaceNews in a meeting on Thursday.

"That's driven some by what we're doing with competition and also by the commercial demand signal. The two are coupled together," he continued, confident that cost reductions of military launch missions will continue through competition.

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