Defense is one of the most lucrative business opportunities. Armies the world over have budgets that form a substantial percentage of their country’s total economic capabilities. And when it is the US Army we are talking about well. snagging contracts here can make your business an overnight success. Along the same, SpaceX has managed to snatch a contract to launch a spaceplane for the Air force, from the United Launch Alliance.
The spaceplane in question is the miniature X-37B. And until now, it was supposed to be launched with the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket. However, Reuters reports that the rocket will now be launched with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 leading the charge. What’s more, the launch is supposed to take place sometime around August, giving SpaceX just two months to prepare.
Of course, SpaceX could have been in on the plan from earlier. It is hard to say for certain either way considering the high level of secrecy that surrounds army operations. We don’t even know what the miniature plane is meant for although, top-secret reconnaissance or perhaps anti-satellite purposes may be a shrewd guess.
The past four X-37B missions have been launched by United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The rocket deployed for the purpose was the Atlas V. Boeing seemed like the perfect partner for the Air force considering that it is the prime contractor for the X-37B as well. The Atlas V has always performed the job to perfection as well, and one would have thought that the airforce would continue with the ULA in the future as well.
However, for reasons best known to itself, the air force seems to have shifted its favor to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets. Interestingly enough, Elon Musk had accused ULA of bribing its way into the Air Force’s contracts in 2014. This was when the latter had obtained an exclusive deal to launch 36 missions. Shortly thereafter, SpaceX was authorized as a valid contractor for air force missions as well.
SpaceX has a couple of other air force missions coming up as well, in 2018 and later. Both of them have to do with GPS satellites, and are valued at $83 million and $96 million.