SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rockets have been given the green light to carry the U.S. Air Force's national security satellites, the service announced on Thursday.
The service awarded the company, headed by billionaire business magnate Elon Musk, a $130 million firm-fixed price contract for evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) services to deliver Air Force Space Command's 52 satellite, known as AFSC-52, into orbit, the Air Force said.
It will be the first military national security space payload on the Falcon Heavy craft.
"The competitive award of this EELV launch service contract directly supports Space and Missile Systems Center's 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.
The classified mission is set for sometime in late fiscal year 2020, and is planned to be launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the service said.
- Is SpaceX or Northrop to Blame for Lost Spy Satellite?
- SpaceX Wins Air Force GPS III Satellite Launch Contract
- Creation of Trump's 'Space Force' May Take Years, Experts Say
Work on the project will be performed in Hawthorne, California; the Kennedy Space Center; and McGregor, Texas, according to the Defense Department contract announcement.
The Air Force awarded California-based SpaceX its first substantial military contract in 2016 -- a deal valued at $83 million to launch a GPS III satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX was the sole bidder as ULA, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security, did not compete for the launch.
In February, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. successfully launched its first Falcon Heavy rocket as part of its highly anticipated demo flight, which also took a Tesla roadster into space.
A month prior, the company launched the secret military payload, code-name Zuma, on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
While SpaceX deemed the launch successful, the payload -- a satellite manufactured by Northrop Grumman Corp. -- failed to reach orbit, according to officials who spoke to Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal.
Various spokespeople at the time, including officials at the Pentagon, repeatedly declined to discuss the mission, citing the classified nature of the program.
It's still remains unclear which government agency was ultimately responsible for the effort.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.