Space X, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, has been awarded a massive $130 million firm-fixed-price contract to send a classified Air Force satellite into space on its Falcon Heavy rocket.
According to the Los Angeles Air Force Base, the satellite dubbed the AFSPC-52 is “projected to launch in late fiscal 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.
According to SpaceX, the Falcon Heavy rocket is the “most powerful operational rocket” in the world by a factor of two. The rocket has the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 pounds). That’s a greater mass than a 737 jetliner filled up with passengers, crew, luggage, and fuel.
The goal behind allowing companies to compete with each other for such major contracts is to help reduce the overall costs for the government. The contract, awarded on June 21, serves to strike a balance between meeting operational needs and lowering costs through “reintroducing competition in National Security Space missions,” according to the Los Angeles Air Force Base.
SpaceX beat out competition from the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, that was planning to use its own heavy-lift Delta 4 rocket to send the military satellite to space, The Verge reported.
According to SpaceNews, Delta 4 launches typically cost around $350 million, and NASA’s heavy-lift rocket hasn’t yet been built.
Musk has said previously that the Falcon Heavy system cost SpaceX about $500 million to develop.
The contract will include launch vehicle production, mission integration, and launch operations. The mission is also planned to be launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.