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SpaceX To Launch Two Military Satellites

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has been slated to launch the U.S. Air Force Space Test Program 2 satellite into orbit in 2015. Credit: SpaceX artist's concept

WASHINGTON — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will launch a pair of military satellites, one in 2014 and one in 2015, in its first missions for the U.S. Air Force, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company announced Dec. 5.

If successful, the late 2014 launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) space weather monitoring satellite and the mid-2015 launch of the experimental Space Test Program-2 satellite would count toward SpaceX’s certification as a military launch services provider — a distinction the company must earn before it is allowed to launch higher-priority defense payloads under the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The Air Force is planning to let new launch services providers compete with United Launch Alliance of Denver, the incumbent EELV contractor.

Both DSCOVR and the Space Test Program-2 satellite would launch from SpaceX’s East Coast launch site, Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. DSCOVR, a NASA-built satellite formerly known as Triana, would launch on Falcon 9; the Space Test Program 2 satellite would launch on the yet-to-be-built Falcon Heavy — a 27-engine variant of the nine-engine Falcon 9.

The Air Force will pay SpaceX $97 million to launch DSCOVR and $165 million to launch the Space Test Program-2 satellite mission. 

iBoth missions were awarded under the Air Force’s Orbital/Suborbital Program-3, an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract that is part of the Air Force Rocket Systems Launch Program.

On Dec. 3, the Pentagon announced that SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver would split the four-year, $900 million Rocket Systems Launch Program contract. Under the contract, launch providers are expected to fly any mission assigned to them within two years of receiving a task order, according to the Air Force’s Dec. 3 award note.

As part of a block-buy strategy, the Air Force is opening up its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program to competition. Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, on Nov. 27 authorized the Air Force to buy up to 50 rocket cores for the program during the next five years. Of these, 36 are being procured directly from United Launch Alliance. The remaining 14 will be awarded competitively.

 

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