Elon Musk’s SpaceX has signed a new contract with the United States Military to develop a rocket that can deliver up to 80 metric tons of cargo to any location in the world in under 60 minutes. According to The Times, the rocket can complete a 7,652-mile journey from Florida to Afghanistan in an hour. That puts the rocket’s estimated speed at 7,500 mph. The same journey that takes the popular US C-17 Globemaster around 15 hours while it cruises at a top speed of 590 mph.
In the contract, SpaceX is asked to analyze the costs of development and the technological challenges that come with building such a launch vehicle. Gen. Stephen Lyons, the head of US Transportation Command, said Wednesday in a virtual conference that initial tests of the rocket are expected to start in 2021.
“Think about moving the equivalent of a C-17 payload anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” Lyons said. “I can tell you SpaceX is moving very, very rapidly in this area. I’m really excited about the team that’s working with SpaceX.”
The rocket that is being described in the contract is pretty much confirmed to be SpaceX’s upcoming Starship + Superheavy launch vehicle. There is no other new rocket that SpaceX is “moving very, very rapidly” towards, as Lyons described in the press conference. Starship has also been touted to be able to travel anywhere in the world in under an hour, as SpaceX aims for the rocket to become the future of air travel.
As a lot of the commercial space industry originates from military contracts, it is not surprising to see SpaceX being awarded this contract to help develop Starship use for the military as well. The contract also helps SpaceX in the funding towards developing the superheavy launch vehicle. Another precedent (even in Starship’s development) can be observed when the US Air Force awarded a contract to help SpaceX develop its next-generation rocket engine—the Raptor engine. That is the same engine that Starship and Superheavy will be using.
SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 rocket only has a cargo capacity to launch up to 22 metric tons of cargo. The booster is also reusable, landing again on either the launch pad or a floating platform vertically using retro-propulsion. Starship and Superheavy are being designed to take advantage of the same technology and be reusable. Elon Musk even says that one day they’ll be able to reuse the rocket more than 100 times.
The new contract comes in right after SpaceX was awarded a $149 million contract to build four missile-tracking satellites for the Pentagon. These satellites will consist of wide-angle infrared missile-tracking sensors. SpaceX also was awarded 40% of a billion-dollar contract from the Department of Defense to launch rockets for the US Space Force (60% of the contract was awarded to ULA). The new contract with the US Military also includes the company Exploration Architecture Corporation as a part of the research program.
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