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article imageUSAF certifies Falcon Heavy — orders satellite launch for 2020

By Karen Graham     Jun 22, 2018 in Science
Los Angeles - SpaceX's behemoth Falcon Heavy rocket has won U.S. Air Force's certification before even launching a second time, marking another milestone for CEO Elon Musk's space venture.
The $130 million contract is a steal for the Air Force - far less than the $350 million average cost of United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV, which was the heaviest lifter in the U.S. arsenal.
However, that is not to say SpaceX's aggressive business model has not already paid off for the company. It has already won five previous contracts since its rockets were certified to fly military missions.
SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 rocket from California  carrying a Spanish military satellite on February...
SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 rocket from California, carrying a Spanish military satellite on February 22, 2018
Robyn Beck, AFP
When SpaceX had its successful launch of its Falcon Heavy in February, one of the questions on many people's minds was who would use the huge booster and its 27 engines?
That question was answered Thursday when the Air Force announced that it had selected the Falcon Heavy to launch its Air Force Space Command-52 (AFSPC-52) satellite.
The AFSPC-52 is a classified mission projected to launch in late Fiscal Year 2020, according to the Air Force.
United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carrying the JPSS-1 satellite sits on Space Launch Complex 2 ...
United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carrying the JPSS-1 satellite sits on Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg AFB in California.
“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.
“On behalf of all of our employees, I want to thank the Air Force for certifying Falcon Heavy, awarding us this critically important mission, and for their trust and confidence in our company,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement, according to Quartz. “SpaceX is pleased to continue offering the American taxpayer the most cost-effective, reliable launch services for vital national security space missions.”
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida  on February 6 ...
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 6, 2018, on its demonstration mission
Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy?
SpaceX's workhorse, the Falcon 9 has gone through several upgrades in its design, growing increasingly powerful, so it is capable of carrying most commercial and military satellites.
But SpaceX is always looking at the bigger picture and its grand ambition is deep space flights to the moon, Mars and beyond. And that ambition rests on the BFR now being developed by the company.
The military still relies on some huge and complex satellite systems that can provide encrypted communications and penetrating surveillance from orbit. Sources in the industry have told Quartz that if SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is successful, it could replace the Delta IV on cost grounds, alone.
An illustration of SpaceX s and Elon Musk s  Big F---ing Rocket  system launching toward space.
An illustration of SpaceX's and Elon Musk's "Big F---ing Rocket" system launching toward space.
And while we don't know what exactly the mission of AFSPC-52 may be, it is a big bird, weighing over 8 metric tons (9 tons). SpaceX says the Falcon 9 could carry it to geostationary orbit - but the Falcon Heavy is capable of carrying nearly 27 metric tons (29 tons) of payload to geostationary orbit.
The Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center, located at the Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, and its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space-based infrared systems, and space situational awareness capabilities.
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