spacex falcon 9 rocket

SpaceX wins lucrative Pentagon contract

Image credit: reuters

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has won a 40 per cent share of an agreement with the US Department of Defense to launch payloads for the newly established Space Force.

Under the agreement, SpaceX will launch 40 per cent of classified Space Force missions between 2022 and 2027.

SpaceX faced an uphill climb to win the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) contract, edging out competing bids from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman, and suing the US Air Force for allegedly creating a “monopoly” by selecting Boeing and Lockheed (which later merged to form the 50-50 joint United Launch Alliance) as the sole launcher for national security missions. SpaceX and the Air Force settled the lawsuit in 2015, soon before the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was approved by the military – and the Air Force agreed to open up more missions to competitors.

SpaceX won its first military contract in 2016, to provide launch services for NSSL’s predecessor.

Ultimately, the Pentagon only awarded NSSL contracts to two bidders. The remaining 60 per cent of launches will be launched by United Launch Alliance (Boeing and Lockheed Martin). SpaceX is expected to launch 14 military and intelligence satellite missions over a five-year period, managed by the US Space Force. United Launch Alliance will launch the remaining 20 missions. Blue Origin will help supply engines for United Launch Alliance rockets in the future.

The SpaceX contract is likely to be worth around $2-5bn, with the first planned mission priced at $316m (£241m) and planned for late 2022. This is an impressive win for a company founded less than 20 years ago.

Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics William Roper said in a statement: “This is a ground-breaking day, culminating years of strategic planning and effort by the Department of the Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office, and our launch service industry partners. Maintaining a competitive launch market, servicing both government and commercial customers, is how we encourage continued innovation on assured access to space.”

The NSSL programme is intended to continue ensuring US military and intelligence access to space via increasingly affordable and reliable launches. No details are expected to be released about the classified payloads the Falcon 9 rockets will carry into space.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has posted a job listing calling for a 'resort development manager' to manage the development of a luxury spaceport based in Texas, from which tourists of the future will possibly travel to Mars on a SpaceX Starship spacecraft.

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