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SpaceX books first two launches with U.S. military

Posted: December 6, 2012

SpaceX has received its first launch orders from the U.S. military, netting contracts worth $262 million for two Falcon rocket launches in 2014 and 2015, the company announced Wednesday.

Artist's concept of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX
The Air Force cinched deals with SpaceX for the launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory and the Space Test Program 2 missions - contracts worth $97 million and $165 million, respectively.

The Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, is based on the repurposed spacecraft first developed in the 1990s for NASA's Triana Earth science mission. The craft was placed in storage after NASA suspended work on the Triana project in 2001.

DSCOVR will be stationed at the L1 libration point a million miles from Earth, where its sensors will monitor space weather and provide warning of approaching solar storms for NOAA and the Air Force.

The Air Force ordered a Falcon 9 rocket launch for DSCOVR in late 2014.

The Space Test Program 2 mission set for liftoff in mid-2015 will put multiple satellites in orbit using SpaceX's Falcon Heavy vehicle, a powerful booster designed to loft up to 117,000 pounds into low Earth orbit.

Both missions will originate from SpaceX's launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., according to SpaceX.

"SpaceX deeply appreciates and is honored by the vote of confidence shown by the Air Force in our Falcon launch vehicles," said Elon Musk, SpaceX's CEO and chief designer. "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."

Artist's concept of the DSCOVR spacecraft. Credit: NOAA
The Air Force contract for the Falcon Heavy also marks the second customer to sign up for a flight on the heavy-lift booster. Intelsat booked a Falcon Heavy launch for an unspecified payload in May.

SpaceX plans a test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket in the second half of 2013.

The contracts are the Air Force's first commitment to SpaceX, which has strived to attract Pentagon launch business. The U.S. military's operational communications, surveillance, navigation and intelligence-gathering satellites fly on Atlas and Delta rockets operated by United Launch Alliance.

But the Air Force set aside some missions for launches on other boosters, giving smaller companies and new market entrants an opportunity to bid for contracts and prove their capabilities.

The DSCOVR and STP 2 awards fall under the Orbital/Suborbital Program 3 contract, which the Air Force awarded to SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. on Monday.

The OSP 3 contract allows the rocket companies to compete for individual missions, which the Air Force calls task orders. The first task orders awarded under the OSP 3 contract went to SpaceX for the DSCOVR and STP 2 missions.

SpaceX said the DSCOVR and STP 2 launches will support efforts to certify the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets to compete with ULA, which SpaceX claims holds a monopoly in the market for most Air Force launches.