SpaceX wins $130M Air Force contract to launch spy satellite

23 June, 2018, 03:51 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • SpaceX nabs $130 million to launch an Air Force satellite with Falcon Heavy		
		
	Kirsten Korosec

   	7 hours

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.

In fact, in SpaceX's website, the company described Falcon Heavy as the world's "most powerful operational rocket" by a factor of two.

Jump ahead to 2018 and SpaceX appears to have been allowed to compete for this particular mission - known cryptically as AFSPC-52 - before Falcon Heavy had so much as completed an integrated static fire test. The Air Force will pay $130 million for the mission, which is higher than the standard rate for a Falcon Heavy launch due to the military's mission assurance requirements.

SpaceX's beat out its biggest rival, United Launch Alliance (ULA), for the contract to launch the AFSC-52 satellite.

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Before Monday's announcement it was not clear how many flights the Air Force would require before it certifies the Falcon Heavy rocket-typically it requires several flights.

SpaceX has four other Falcon Heavy missions on its manifest: Another US Air Force mission, this one to launch a series of experimental satellites, is expected this fall. It sees the company provide a total launch solution with the launch happening at some point in 2020 from Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Together, these engine cores can generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust of liftoff.

"SpaceX is honored by the Air Force's selection of Falcon Heavy to launch the competitively-awarded AFSPC-52 mission", said SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell in a news release Thursday. That makes it the most powerful rocket now in operation. The Falcon Heavy rocket can hit all of the Department of Defense's nine reference orbits. Those Atlas 5 rocket launches are also set for 2020.

"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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