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Musk's SpaceX gets foot in door of US secret 'black' space program

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Internet space cowboy Elon Musk has scored two lucrative military contracts from the US Air Force, which could be stepping stones into the hugely lucrative 'black' spy-sat launch market.

SpaceX will launch two science missions for the USAF in 2014 and 2015, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and Space Test Program 2 (STP-2), on the Falcon 9 and the upcoming Falcon Heavy mega-rocket respectively.

"SpaceX deeply appreciates and is honoured by the vote of confidence shown by the Air Force in our Falcon launch vehicles," Musk gushed. "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 of the missions are part of the Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3), which is an ongoing contract for the Air Force Rocket Systems Launch Program. The programme is also a testing ground for new rockets before SpaceX might get its hands on some spy satellite contracts.

The launches, if successful, will give the US military confidence in the Falcon 9 and the hulking Falcon Heavy, due to become the most powerful rocket in the world, which is set to take its maiden flight in the second half of next year. The boosters will get the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle certs required by the Air Force.

This would make them eligible for secret missions lifting highly classified spy satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office, the nexus between the US military and intelligence communities which runs America's "black" secret space program - generally thought to dispose of much larger budgets than NASA can command. ®

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