SpaceX Wins Two New U.S. Government Launch Contracts

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The U.S. Air Force has awarded SpaceX the first two contracts under a new $900 million program aimed at increasing competition in the launch market:

SpaceX will use its Falcon 9 v1.1 to boost NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) in November 2014 and the Falcon 9 Heavy for launch of a Space Test Program satellite in September 2015, says Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, program executive officer for Air Force space programs.

Already, about $100 million has been obligated under a new Orbital/Suborbital Program (OSP)-3 contract for the missions. Another $162 million is expected to be set aside in the coming days, Pawlikowski says. SpaceX “was considered the best value to the government,” she tells Aviation Week.

SpaceX’s Falcon rockets and the Antares, a new design by Orbital Sciences, have both been selected as competitors for what Pawlikoski calls “lane 2” launches under the OSP-3 contract. This means the two companies can compete for the larger satellite boosting missions to come under the contract umbrella….

Orbital Sciences, with its Minotaur family, and Lockheed Martin, with the new Athena booster, were selected as competitors for “lane 1” competitions; these involve lofting smaller satellites into orbit….

Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket has not yet flown; the inaugural flight is set for the first quarter of 2013 under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Falcon 9 has had four successful missions while Falcon Heavy is still under development.

The Air Force will use data from the SpaceX’s Falcon launches to help certify the company’s rockets to compete against ULA in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. ULA currently has a monopoly in that program with its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, which are used to loft the military’s largest and most valuable satellites.

The Air Force plans to purchase up to 50 launch vehicles under the EELV program over the next five years. Thirty-six launch vehicles would be purchased in a bulk buy from ULA. An additional 14 launchers would be competitively bid, which opens the door for SpaceX to compete. The Air Force has reserved the option to purchase up to 14 additional boosters from ULA should SpaceX not be able to meet launch requirements.

Read the full story at Aviation Week.

UPDATE: SpaceX has put out a press release that indicates that both Falcon launches will take place from Florida:

The DSCOVR mission will be launched aboard a Falcon 9 and is currently slated for late 2014, while STP-2 will be launched aboard the Falcon Heavy and is targeted for mid-2015. Both are expected to launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

“SpaceX deeply appreciates and is honored by the vote of confidence shown by the Air Force in our Falcon launch vehicles,” said Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer, SpaceX. “We look forward to providing high reliability access to space with lift capability to orbit that is substantially greater than any other launch vehicle in the world.”


  • http://LunarCOTS.com DougSpace

    This is big. SpaceX is securing its future in a number of ways. It’s manifest includes commercial launches, international launches, NASA launches, and now DOD launches. And when the Falcon Heavy launches, that will set it well for more DOD launches. And then there’s always the possibility of Bigelow and Golden Spike???

  • http://exoscientist.blogspot.com Robert Clark

    Thanks for that. Didn’t know Spacex had already secured a contract for a Falcon Heavy launch. This ones takes place from the Cape. Anyone know if the first test launches for the Heavy will also be from the Cape?

    Bob Clark

  • http://www.nickolai.me Nickolai

    Bob, I think they might have made a typo – as far as I know, they’re currently building launch infrastructure for the Heavy out in Vandenburg, and that’s where it’s expected to fly from first. I suppose they could refit the Florida pad to accommodate Heavy, but there’s no way they’d do that without the Vandenburg pad operational and supporting both F9 and F9H. Otherwise they leave themselves without a launch site for F9, kind of bad for business!

  • Marcus Zottl

    Nickolai: Please explain why refitting the Cape Canaveral pad (LC-40 iirc?) for FH would render it unusable for F9?