US: SpaceX has been awarded with a contract worth $82.7 million from the U.S. Air Force to launch a next-generation GPS satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket in May 2018. The first of nine launch contracts the Defense Department plans to put out for bid over the next three years.
The contract also marks a significant first for Elon Musk’s rocket company, which DoD had previously only entrusted with small, experimental satellites. This is a first contract SpaceX received for Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program. This is the first time when Air Force has not divided the launch of big-ticket national security satellites between the Atlas and Delta rockets.
“This GPS 3 Launch Services contract award achieves a balance between mission success, meeting operational needs, lowering launch costs, and reintroducing competition for National Security Space missions,” Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, said in an April 27 press release.
With this deal, SpaceX has gained a foothold in a national security launch market, something which it has been trying to crack for years. In 2012, SpaceX gave the Air Force an unsolicited bid to launch the GPS 3 satellites for $79.9 million per launch. The Air Force rejected the offer, but initiated a process for certifying SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to carry military and intelligence payloads to orbit.
The GPS 3 mission is the first of nine medium-class launches the Air Force intends to put out for bid by the end of 2018. Of the nine, six are for GPS 3 satellites, all of which are in SpaceX’s wheelhouse and will pose a competitive challenge for ULA if the Air Force continues to make price a key deciding factor.
“SpaceX is planning to send Dragons to Mars as early as 2018,” SpaceX said on Facebook. “Red Dragon missions will help inform the overall Mars architecture that will be unveiled later this year. These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars.”
Source: LA Times