Air Force Certifies SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket, Awards $130 Million Contract


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.

The contract was awarded to SpaceX even with the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Command saying previously that it may take two or 14 flights before the Falcon Heavy rocket could be certified for the mission. The certification happened on June 21, while Falcon Heavy's second flight with the Air Force's Space Test Program Flight 2 was scheduled in October. The test program is supposed to be an experimental launch where the Falcon Heavy will carry as many as 25 satellites.

The $130 Million Contract

According to the military, the launch service contract entails launch vehicle production, launch operations, and spaceflight worthiness activities. Specifically, the Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle into its intended orbit.

With the SpaceX onboard, Air Force said the contract strikes a balance between satisfying the operational requirements and lower budgetary allocation.

"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," explained John Thompson, lieutenant general and program executive officer.

All work with regard to the contract will be conducted in Hawthorne, California, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and McGregor in Texas. The entire project is expected to be completed by September 2020.

The military mentioned that two companies had competed for the contract, and SpaceX beat out the other bid. The announcement did not name the other party, but a report surmised it could be ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ULA used to monopolize similar missions for the government until SpaceX landed its first military contract in 2016.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket

This week, a film production studio named Corridor Crew released a video that shows SpaceX rockets side by side various landmarks to demonstrate how big the rockets are in real life. SpaceX's Falcon 9 is about as big as a 21-story building. Falcon Heavy is even bigger.

In fact, in SpaceX's website, the company described Falcon Heavy as the world's "most powerful operational rocket" by a factor of two. The rocket can lift as much as 141,000 pounds of cargoes. In comparison, the cargoes could be heavier than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage, and fuel. The first stage of the Falcon Heavy is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores. Together, these engine cores can generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust of liftoff. This is equivalent to about 18 747 aircraft.

With regard to the contract won, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president, and COO, said the company is humbled to be of service to the taxpayers.

"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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