HAWTHORNE, Calif., — Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has been awarded the contract to launch two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class missions by the United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. The DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) and STP-2 (Space Test Program 2) will fly atop a Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicle in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
This marks the first time that the NewSpace firm has been awarded an EELV contract, as the company has strived to lower the cost of launching to orbit by developing systems that were proposed to contain reusable elements.
“SpaceX deeply appreciates and is honored by the vote of confidence shown by the Air Force in our Falcon launch vehicles,” said Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer, SpaceX. “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.”
Both missions are currently planned to launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) located on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. With DSCOVR slated for a late 2014 launch and STP-2 scheduled to launch in mid-2015.
These two missions fall under the U.S. Air Force’s Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3), an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the Air Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program.
This program allows new companies an opportunity to show off the capabilities of their launch vehicles.
The DSCOVR mission will serve to further demonstrate the Falcon 9’s capabilities (the launch vehicle has already flown four times under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and Commercial Resupply Services contracts).
STP-2 on the other hand will test the, as yet, untested characteristics of the Falcon Heavy (this rocket has not yet flown). SpaceX plans to conduct the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy in late 2013.
SpaceX has become the company to watch in the commercial space flight arena. The firm’s Falcon 9 rockets have launched successfully on each of its four flights. Three of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft have thundered into orbit atop the Falcon 9 with two of those traveling to the International Space Station and delivering cargo to the orbiting laboratory.