Musk's SpaceX gets foot in door of US secret 'black' space program
NASA? That's peanuts, let's go for the real money
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. ®
Where the big bucks are ...
The NRO (the existence of which was officially denied for decades) basically puts up a Hubble every year, just looking down instead of up. The KH-11 series were said to each cost the same as a Nimitz-class carrier - $6bn - while Hubble came in under that amount.
I'm a complete supporter of military funding, but I really wish the US would divert just 5% of it's defence expenditure to NASA and space exploration. The results would be amazing.
The weather can seriously affect the military, even today.
The "Battle of the Bulge" was primarily because low cloud and rain prevent Allied aircraft from operating and gave the Wehrmacht an opportunity to deploy its forces effectively for the first time in months.
Most of the attempts to invade Russia have foundered when encountering the, er, delightful winter conditions.
Even today, low cloud will blind many sensors; rain will make the infantry miserable; sandstorms can destroy electro-optical equipment etc.
Re: Bye SpaceX, t'was nice hearing you
Well, not quite. There may be nothing currently on the manifest, but that's because the NRO, air force, NASA are tossing stuff at them. They've launched several commercial sats, ICO-1 for one.
This development will help level the playing field of the launch business, but not how most might expect. To participate in government contacts, SpaceX must comply with requirements for reporting, testing, audits, quality management, and the vagaries of a more particular customer, which ULA and its parent companies have been dealing with for a while, and which do figure in their costs.
So as SpaceX comes into the government contracting fold, their costs are going to rise. It is possible that ULA costs will fall, as if SpaceX is excused from certain requirements inherent in the EELV program, ULA can make a good case for also not having to abide by them.
This should be good, seeing the fur fly.