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

Falcon Heavy

Falcon Heavy

Under the contract, the Hawthorne, Calif. -based rocket company founded by Elon Musk will launch the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite to its intended orbit.

The Department of Defense announces on Thursday that it awarded SpaceX with $130 million contract to launch the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite into orbit.

This week's award served as the first indication that the Falcon Heavy had been certified for national security launches.

Falcon Heavy prepares for its inaugural launch in early 2018.

The satellite is on track to launch in 2020 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with SpaceX providing "launch vehicle production and mission, as well as integration, launch operations and spaceflight worthiness activities". The entire project is expected to be completed by September 2020. The announcement did not name the other party, but a report surmised it could be ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

SpaceX first disrupted ULA's long-held monopoly on military launch contracts with a contract win in 2016. SpaceX's Falcon 9 is about as big as a 21-story building.

SpaceX shows off the Falcon Heavy rocket on the launchpad.

Falcon Heavy clears the top of the strongback in a spectacular fashion. That makes it the most powerful rocket now in operation. In comparison, the cargoes could be heavier than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage, and fuel. This is equivalent to about 18 747 aircraft.

"SpaceX is honored by the Air Force's selection of Falcon Heavy to launch the competitively-awarded AFSPC-52 mission", SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.

While it requires far less rigor than the Air Force's more secretive, national security-sensitive satellite launches, SpaceX's second Falcon Heavy launch - this time with three highly-reusable Block 5 boosters - will also be conducted with the military branch as the primary customer.

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