SpaceX lands second military contract

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket with 10 satellites for to low Earth orbit for Iridium lifts off from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Jan. 14 2017. File

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from Kennedy Space Center with the EchoStar 23 communications satellite on Thursday, March 16, 2017.

SpaceX is slated to launch an Air Force GPS satellite on a cheaper Falcon 9 rocket in 2019.

Interestingly, SpaceX didn't even attempt to recover the first stage of its rocket for this launch. The launch, which took place at 2 AM ET on Thursday, saw SpaceX succeed in placing the EchoStar XIII 22,000 miles up from the surface of the blue planet.

These performance factors required the Falcon 9's first-stage booster to use its maximum propellent haul. In such "geostationary" orbits, satellites take 24 hours to complete one trip around the planet and appear stationary in the sky - a key requirement for communications stations.

But a catastrophic explosion while a rocket was in pre-flight mode on September 1st and caused millions in damages to Launch Pad 40, and put the pad out of action for some 6 months, has forced the FAA to insist on higher insurance cover.

You may notice the Falcon 9 looks slightly different to others. The EchoStar XXIII satellite was successfully deployed to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit and will now provide broadcast services to Brazil.

The Falcon 9 used for this morning's mission was noticeably different from what we're used to seeing fly out of the spaceport. It will be very similar to the current Falcon 9 with with higher thrust engines, improved landing legs, and design changes to make it easier to refurbish for another launch.

SpaceX became eligible to conduct military launches in May 2015 and won its first Pentagon contract, also for a Global Positioning System navigation satellite, in April 2016. SpaceX will also utilize its upcoming Falcon Heavy rocket for larger payloads and farther deliveries.

Elon Musk started SpaceX in 2002 with the vision of making space travel cheaper and sustainable.

EchoStar was the second launch for SpaceX.

This is the second military contract that Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has snagged since winning approval in 2015 to bid on the deals, and therefore introducing competition into US space launch services. SpaceX received certification to launch military satellites in 2015 and then won its first Air Force launch contract in April 2016: a contract valued at $87.2 million to launch the military's second GPS-III satellite.

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