SPACEX will soon begin blasting top-secret payloads into orbit after the rocket firm penned a lucrative contract with the Pentagon.
The deal, potentially worth billions, is for launch contracts beginning in 2022 using the California firm’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.
In an announcement last Friday, US Space Force and Air Force officials said the contract would see SpaceX and US aerospace firm United Launch Alliance take care of national security payloads over the next five years.
They were up against Blue Origin, a rocket company run by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, and Northrop Grumman as part of a four-way launch services competition known as National Security Space Launch Phase 2.
It’s not clear what exactly the two firms will be launching. The Pentagon regularly uses private firms to launch spy satellites and other space tech.
“This was an extremely tough decision,” said Colonel Robert Bongiovi, director of the Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise.
“I appreciate the hard work industry completed to adapt their commercial launch systems to affordably and reliably meet our more stressing national security requirements.”
The Air Force said it awarded SpaceX and ULA $653million (£500million) in combined military launch contracts under the Pentagon’s next-generation, multibillion-dollar launch capability program.
The contracts allocate $337million (£257million) to ULA, a joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.
SpaceX, on the other hand, gets $316million (£241million) for the first missions of roughly 34 total that the two rocket firms will support.
ULA will receive a contract for approximately 60 per cent of those launch service orders using its next-generation Vulcan rocket.
Musk’s SpaceX will receive approximately 40 per cent, the Air Force’s acquisition chief Will Roper said.
The awards are part of the Pentagon’s 2014 mandate from Congress to curb its dependency on rockets using Russias RD-180 engine.
Officials hope to transition to US-made rockets for launching Washington’s most sensitive national security payloads to space.
The program is aimed at “building a competitive industry base that we hope doesn’t just help military and national security missions, but that helps our nation continue to compete and dominate in space,” Roper added.
“Todays awards mark a new epoch of space launch that will finally transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines,” Roper said.
The two companies lay claim to lucrative military contracts that competitors Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman also competed for.
Blue Origin Chief Executive Bob Smith said in a statement he was “disappointed” in the Pentagon’s decision.
He added that the company will continue to develop its heavy-lift New Glenn rocket “to fulfill our current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts.”
In other news, SpaceX’s Starship rocket that will one day carry people to Mars completed its first test flight last week.
Elon Musk announced last month that SpaceX’s mission to get man on Mars is now the company’s “top priority”.
And, Nasa has revealed the design of a moon lander that could be taking astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2024.
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