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SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket gets Air Force certification

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket gets Air Force certification
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in February. (John Raoux / Associated Press)

Four months after its first test flight, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is now certified by the Air Force to carry national security satellites.

The Air Force certified Falcon Heavy on Tuesday, according to the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. On Thursday, the Air Force said the Hawthorne space company won a $130-million contract to launch a classified satellite known as AFSPC-52 on the massive rocket in 2020.

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The mission is expected to launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launched for the first time in February and carried a Tesla Roadster into space. It is the world’s most powerful operational rocket and can generate 5.1 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

Falcon Heavy was expected to help SpaceX win more lucrative national security missions that required greater carrying capacity than its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, which was certified by the Air Force in 2015. Falcon Heavy can lift more than 140,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit, compared with Falcon 9’s 50,000 pound capacity.

Even prior to the February test launch, SpaceX planned to launch the Air Force’s STP-2 mission, which was intended to demonstrate the rocket’s capacity to take several satellites and spacecraft into different orbits.

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