U.S. Air Force selects SpaceX Falcon Heavy for $130M launch contract

SpaceX awarded contract over ULA

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center on February 6, 2018 in Cape Canaveral.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Several months after SpaceX launched its new Falcon Heavy rocket, the U.S. Air Force awarded the company and its mega rocket a $130 million contract over its competitor United Launch Alliance.

ULA and SpaceX had both submitted proposals to the U.S. Department of Defense to launch the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite. On Thursday, SpaceX was awarded that contract.

Previously, ULA was awarded three Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or EELV contracts, where a heavy-lift rocket was required, before Falcon Heavy was U.S. Air Force certified. This is the first for Falcon Heavy since it received its U.S. Air Force flight certification.

Falcon Heavy had its first successful launch from Kennedy Space Center’s launch complex 39A in February. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk selected his personal Tesla roadster to be the test payload.

The payload for the U.S. Air Force mission won’t be a sports car, but it will launch from the Space Coast.

“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. “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 is pleased to continue offering the American taxpayer the most cost-effective, reliable launch services for vital national security space missions.”

The Air Force Command 52 mission is expected to be complete in September 2020, according to the contract announcement.

It was a big deal for the Falcon 9 to become certified as a U.S. Air Force contractor as ULA previously had a monopoly on DOD launches. And it's a good sign that months after its first launch, Falcon Heavy received its first DOD contract.

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