The United States Air Force (USAF) has awarded a $130 million contract to SpaceX to launch a classified Air Force satellite in the space orbit using its monster Falcon Heavy rocket. The AFSPC-52 satellite is scheduled to launch in 2020 from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
The news was announced by Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center on Thursday in Los Angeles. The Elon Mosk’s space company beat out its sole competitor United Launch Alliance for the contract under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. United Launch Alliance, which is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, was angling to use its own heavy-lift Delta 4 rocket to send the military satellite for the US Air Force to space. The Delta 4 would have cost roughly $350 million to launch.
SMC Commander Lt. Gen. John Thompson said that the contract was allotted to SpaceX to reduce launch costs while maintaining assured access to space.
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President, and Chief Operating Officer said in a statement that the company is honored that its Falcon Heavy has been selected by the Air Force to launch the competitively-awarded AFSPC-52 mission. She added that the contract allotment indicates the military’s trust and confidence in the company.
The Falcon Heavy is also on track for two future launches which are scheduled to take place before the end of the year. While the first launch will take over two dozen smaller satellites into space, the second launch will put a commercial satellite into orbit. Falcon Heavy is being touted as the world’s most powerful operational rocket by a factor of two. It can lift as much as 141,000 pounds of cargoes.
SpaceX still hasn’t set a date for the second launch of the Falcon Heavy. CEO Elon Musk said in February that the company will need around three to six months to prepare for the launch. The launch is currently set for October.