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 spaceplane, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said on Tuesday. Four previous X-37B missions were launched by United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets. “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 spaceplanes. The Air Force did not immediately reply to a request for comment about when the contract with SpaceX was awarded, or if it had previously hired United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, for the mission. Launch contracts are usually announced about two years before a flight. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell declined to comment. ULA could not immediately be reached for 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.
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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 Elon Musk, who is also chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc.