* Solar observatory, test satellite to fly on Falcon rockets
* Flights seen as stepping-stone for more military missions
By Irene Klotz
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 5 Startup rocket company
Space Exploration Technologies, which flies NASA cargo to the
International Space Station, has landed its first launch
contracts for the U.S. military, the company said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Air Force will pay $97 million for a Falcon 9
rocket to launch in 2014 the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a
solar telescope that will be operated by NASA. It will also pay
$165 million for a Falcon Heavy rocket for the military's Space
Test Program-2 satellite, which is expected to fly in 2015.
Both spacecraft will be launched from Space Exploration
Technologies' Cape Canaveral, Florida, site.
The company, also known as SpaceX, has been pursuing U.S.
military launch business for years, hoping to break the monopoly
held by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing
and Lockheed Martin.
"SpaceX deeply appreciates and is honored by the vote of
confidence shown by the Air Force in our Falcon launch
vehicles," SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said in
In addition to a 12-flight, $1.6 billion space station cargo
delivery contract with NASA, SpaceX has a backlog of about 20
commercial and non-U.S. government satellites and payloads to
fly on its Falcon family of rockets over the next five years.
The privately owned company plans to begin using a second
launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in 2013.
SpaceX also is one of three companies hired by NASA to
design a spaceship that can fly astronauts to the station, a
$100 billion research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400
km) above Earth.
SpaceX's Air Force contracts are part of a four-year, $900
million program that also includes Orbital Sciences Corp
and Lockheed Martin, which is offering a new Athena rocket
outside the United Launch Alliance partnership.