Hawthorne, Calif., rocket maker SpaceX announced it will launch its first two military satellites in 2014 and 2015.
It was a major announcement for the young company and its 41-year-old billionaire founder, Elon Musk, who has been working toward getting military business for years.
"SpaceX deeply appreciates and is honored by the vote of confidence shown by the Air Force in our Falcon launch vehicles," Musk said in a statement. "We look forward to providing high-reliability access to space with lift capability to orbit that is substantially greater than any other launch vehicle in the world."
The company, officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., successfully carried out a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station in October. It was the first test of NASA's plan to outsource resupply missions to commercial companies, now that the U.S. space shuttle fleet has been retired.
Now, it appears that the Pentagon is also open to dealing with commercial companies. The Air Force issued a contract worth up to $900 million for 10 to 12 launches from SpaceX, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.
The contract represents the first Air Force contract designed to provide new entrants to the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program _ the lucrative business of launching national security satellites for the Pentagon. United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of aerospace behemoths Lockheed and Boeing Co., is the Pentagon's sole launch provider for such missions
Both SpaceX's missions, carrying science satellites, are expected to blast off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The two missions will work toward certifying the company's rockets so they meet the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program's stringent requirements.