SpaceX has won a contract worth more than $102 million to transport military supplies and humanitarian aid around the world using a rocket.
The US Air Force has signed a contract with SpaceX. The contract, first reported by AviationWeek.com, includes a five-year agreement that is part of the new Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) rocket cargo program. A new project is exploring the use of large missiles for US Department of Defense global logistics.
The contract states that SpaceX will "demonstrate the technology and capabilities to transport military supplies and humanitarian aid around the world on a heavy rocket.
This is described as a "point-to-point transport" that delivers payloads from one place to another on Earth, and is the largest rocket transport contract of its kind ever awarded.
The Department of Defense is "very interested in being able to deliver cargo anywhere on Earth to support humanitarian and disaster relief," said Greg Spangers, AFRL's Missile Cargo Program Manager. “Commercial providers provide fixed point-to-point transportation to established facilities, a commercial service that we are certainly interested in acquiring when available.”
Spangers added that while SpaceX was awarded this initial contract, the Air Force plans to work with other companies as well through this program. Last year, Air Force officials unveiled the Rocket Cargo Vanguard project, which explored plans to deliver up to 100 tons of cargo anywhere on Earth using commercial rockets.
The new contract does not specify which SpaceX launch vehicles will be used for this vehicle. But under the agreement, AFRL will be able to view and access data on all SpaceX orbital launches and landings so that the right vehicles for the job can be selected and evaluated.
SpaceX has been launching reusable Falcon 9 rockets for many years and also has a Falcon Heavy rocket with reusable boosters for larger missions. The company is also developing a massive rocket called Starship, which will use a reusable super-heavy booster to launch up to 100 tons into Earth orbit. This rocket, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, could be capable of flying around the Earth from one point to another.
Under the new contract, AFRL will also be able to call on SpaceX to demonstrate its heavy-lift and landing capabilities, although no timeline has yet been given for such a demonstration.
"AFRL will use several commercial demonstration launches over the next few years to collect data," Spangers told SpaceNews, adding that the Air Force "does not determine this schedule, but rather will collect data whenever SpaceX conducts relevant missions." .
As part of the contract, SpaceX will also design cargo bays for the Air Force, specifically cargo bays that can be loaded and unloaded quickly and that can accommodate US Transportation Command intermodal containers.
In addition to transporting supplies and supplies for the US military, the contract also covers disaster relief and humanitarian aid. However, spaceports are far from being everywhere where disasters occur, so landing a rocket filled with the necessary supplies is a challenge that will have to be overcome.
AFRL is "exploring a wider range of new trajectories to mitigate overflight issues, exploring landing options for harsh environments, investigating human factors landing near populations, and integrating a wider range of cargo, including medical supplies."