SpaceX lands $130-million Falcon Heavy deal for US Air Force

It's somewhere between hard and impossible to accurately compare the different payloads and launches of the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), but SpaceX's only competitor ULA was awarded a contract for the launch of two relatively different AFSPC payloads at an average (fixed) cost of $175 million per mission.

SpaceX and its Falcon Heavy rocket have won a $130-million launch contract with the US Air Force, TechCrunch reported.

It's not immediately clear what role the classified satellite on this mission, AFSPC-52, will play when it is launched in 2020. The mission is planned to be launched from Kennedy Space Center.

"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 in a statement.

When SpaceX debuted the Falcon Heavy rocket in February, one of the biggest questions concerned who, exactly, would use the large booster and its 27 engines. Industry sources told Quartz that SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, if successful, could displace ULA's Delta IV simply on cost grounds, given the $200 million or more disparity in price between the two vehicles. The company says that the Falcon Heavy can carry almost 27 metric tons (29 tons) of payload to geostationary orbit.

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This week's award served as the first indication that the Falcon Heavy had been certified for national security launches. "SpaceX is pleased to continue offering the American taxpayer the most cost-effective, reliable launch services for vital national security space missions". That makes it the most powerful rocket now in operation. Those Atlas 5 rocket launches are also set for 2020. It's due to loft a variety of payloads into orbit for the Air Force's STP-2 technology demonstration mission.

The fully-integrated Falcon Heavy rolls out to Pad 39A.

STP-2 is now scheduled for no earlier than (NET) November 2018, while the third launch of Falcon Heavy - the commercial Arabsat 6A communications satellite - is tentatively targeted for December, although it's nearly guaranteed to slip into Q1 2019.

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