SpaceX snaps up $130 million classified 2020 USAF satellite launch
SpaceX, Elon Musk’s private rocket company, has just won a major US military contract by snapping up a $130 million deal to launch the US Air Force AFSPC-52 satellite into orbit in 2020. The deal sees SpaceX beating back a joint venture between Boeing-Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance that had been put on the table.
The decision to go with SpaceX for a military rocket launch over that of the more established Boeing/Launch Alliance partnership is seemingly all down to cost. Boeing’s bid relied upon using a Delta 4 rocket to transport the payload into orbit. According to Space News, a Delta 4 rocket launch would cost $350 million, meaning that by opting for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy instead, the US Air Force is saving a lot of money in the process.
It seems that price is really the only factor in the process here as, other than the Falcon Heavy having only having had a limited test run, the military had previously struggled to accept the Falcon 9 for military use. In fact, it took SpaceX to file a lawsuit against the USAF for it to finally approve the rocket.
With the launch taking place in 2020, SpaceX still has plenty of time to hone its Falcon Heavy rocket to ensure it doesn’t blow up the Air Force’s valuable secret payload. Musk has already stuffed up a US Air Force contract with the multi-billion Zuma satellite going missing. To go wrong again would certainly put SpaceX in a bad position with the military, but there’s time to smooth out any known problems ahead of launch and hopefully win some more contracts.
“SpaceX is honoured by the Air Force’s selection of Falcon Heavy to launch the competitively-awarded AFSPC-52 mission,” SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell told CNN Money in a statement. “SpaceX is pleased to continue offering the American taxpayer the most cost-effective, reliable launch services for vital national security space missions.”