On February 6, Elon Musk and SpaceX made history when they successfully launched and partially landed the Falcon Heavy.
The cargo - a red Tesla Roadster electric car, a Hot Wheels toy model, a data storage device with a copy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels and the names of more than 6,000 SpaceX employees - was sent to space merely as a show of force of a private company.
That show of force seems to have rung the right bells with the American government, which already awarded the first contract to the Falcon Heavy.
According to Wired, in June the U.S. Airforce booked a flight on the Heavy for a 2020 launch of the Space Command-52 satellite.
“SpaceX is honored by the Air Force’s selection of Falcon Heavy to launch the competitively-awarded AFSPC-52 mission,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement at the time.
“On behalf of all of our employees, I want to thank the Air Force for certifying Falcon Heavy, awarding us this critically important mission, and for their trust and confidence in our company.”
Choosing Falcon Heavy over other rockets, including Launch Alliance’s machines, is the right move, considering the rocket’s better cargo capacity and cost of launch.
The Falcon Heavy is currently the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, capable of generating more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff via the three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores with 27 Merlin engines. That's roughly the equivalent of eighteen 747 aircraft starting their engines at the same time.
Being a reusable launch system, Falcon Heavy might significantly lower the price-per-launch of space missions. Since 2013, launch prices are below $2,200/kg thanks to the efforts made by SpaceX, among others.