SpaceX has just landed their first classified military contract to start launching satellites for the US Air Force in 2020.
On Thursday, the United States Air Force announced that SpaceX will be the company that ferries their AFSPC-52 satellites into orbit starting in the year 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 Lt. Gen. John Thompson, Air Force program executive officer for Space and SMC commander.
SpaceX will use their new Falcon Heavy Rocket to transport classified military satellites either in the summer or fall of 2020. The contract is worth $130 million and is the first time SpaceX will transport a classified national security payload, according to CNN.
It also represents the first time that a competing company has taken a military contract away from United Launch Alliance (ULA)--the joint venture between established industry veterans Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
ULA was previously the only other company authorized to carry classified payloads for the US Air Force, but SpaceX sued the US government for the right to bid on military contracts and won. Their first payload for the United States Air Force was taken up in a Falcon 9 rocket in 2016.
That payload wasn’t classified, however. The AFSPC-52 satellite launched in 2020 will be classified, which will test SpaceX’s ability to maintain security at their sites.
"SpaceX is honored by the Air Force's selection of Falcon Heavy to launch the competitively-awarded AFSPC-52 mission," said SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell.. "SpaceX is pleased to continue offering the American taxpayer the most cost-effective, reliable launch services for vital national security space missions."
SpaceX impressed everyone last February with the successful launch of their Falcon Heavy Rocket. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk even used the opportunity to send a cherry red Tesla Roadster into orbit as a means of testing the Falcon Heavy’s payload capacity. Images of a manikin soaring above the Earth from behind the wheel of a Roadster went viral and made national headlines for weeks.
The Falcon Heavy’s next flight will be to launch a Saudi Arabian communications satellite.