SpaceX Will Launch the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Space Plane

Handout photo shows the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 3 space plane after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 3 space plane is shown after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California October 17, 2014 in this handout photograph provided by Vandenberg Air Force Base. The United States military landed the robotic space plane in central California on Friday, ending a classified 22-month mission that marked the third in Earth orbit for the experimental program, the Air Force said. REUTERS/Boeing/Vandenberg Air Force Base/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY MILITARY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTR4AMMQ
Vandenberg Air Force Base Handout/Reuters

Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp will fly its first mission for the U.S. Air Force in August when it launches the military’s X-37B miniature space plane, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said on Tuesday.

Four previous X-37B missions were launched by United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets. ULA is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.

“SpaceX will be sending the next Air Force payload up into space in August,” Wilson said during webcast testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. She later specified that the payload would be one of the Air Force’s two X-37B space planes.

Launch contracts are usually announced about two years before a flight but the Air Force did not disclose the X-37B contract until Tuesday, a mere two months before the flight. The Air Force declined to say when the contract was awarded or provide other details.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell declined to comment.

SpaceX’s first publicly disclosed launch contract for the Air Force was awarded last year for a next-generation Global Positioning System satellite flight in 2018. A second GPS launch contract was awarded in March. The contracts are valued at $83 million and $96.5 million, respectively.

In May 2016, the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office disclosed it had hired SpaceX to launch a spy satellite aboard a Falcon 9. The mission, which was arranged through an intermediary, Ball Aerospace, took place last month.

SpaceX is owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Musk, who is also chief executive of electric car maker Tesla (TSLA).

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