SpaceX’s most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, has landed a major launch contract from the U.S. Air Force, reports Teslarati. The $130 million contract stipulates that SpaceX will launch the Falcon Heavy on a military mission in two years’ time.
The news comes from the U.S. Department of Defense, which announced on June 21 that SpaceX won the contract “to deliver the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite to its intended orbit.”
“This launch service contract will include launch vehicle production and mission, as well as integration, launch operations and spaceflight worthiness activities,” states the disclosure.
Not much is known about this particular mission, except that it is referred to as AFSPC-52 and it involves launching a classified military satellite from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center sometime around September 2020.
While Teslarati describes it as “an unexpected bode of confidence” from USAF’s part, the announcement clearly shows that the Air Force has deemed the Falcon Heavy a reliable enough rocket to certify it just four months after its demonstration launch.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy on its first test mission in February, marking a great success for Elon Musk’s private space company.
“On behalf of all of our employees, I want to thank the Air Force for certifying Falcon Heavy, awarding us this critically important mission, and for their trust and confidence in our company,” SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement. “SpaceX is pleased to continue offering the American taxpayer the most cost-effective, reliable launch services for vital national security space missions.”
According to Quartz, SpaceX competed and won against United Launch Alliance (ULA) for this particular launch contract.
Although Musk’s company will be paid a lot more compared to the standard Falcon Heavy launch rate on account of the special assurance requirements of the military mission, as noted by Ars Technica, the $130 million contract is still almost three times less expensive than what the USAF usually pays ULA for military launches.
The company managed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing typically walks away with $350 million per Delta IV launch. This makes the Falcon Heavy “the cheapest enormous rocket” that the Air Force has ever contracted, notes Quartz.
If the SpaceX military mission is successful, the Falcon Heavy “could displace ULA’s Delta IV simply on cost grounds,” the media outlet reports, citing industry sources.
As reported by the Inquisitr, the Falcon Heavy is 230 feet tall and 40 feet wide, and its first stage basically incorporates three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together.
Although SpaceX had to wait two years to get the Falcon 9 certified, it seems that the rocket’s more than 50 flights, coupled with the great results from the Falcon Heavy flight test, was enough to warrant certification by the USAF.
While the Air Force didn’t specify the role or purpose of its Command-52 satellite, Quartz states that the spacecraft weighs more than the eight metric tons (nine tons).
The payload won’t pose any problems for the Falcon Heavy, whose triple booster is capable of carrying nearly 27 metric tons (29 tons) of gear to geostationary orbit, where the satellite will remain stationed above our planet.