SpaceX launches communications satellite EchoStar 23

The SpaceX Falcon rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday Feb. 19 2017 carrying a load of supplies for the International Space Station

It's the second contract SpaceX has landed with the U.S. Air Force, with the last being in April.

The Falcon 9 rocket lit up the former Apollo 11 launch pad 39A (now leased by SpaceX) at 2:00 AM and blazed through the pre-dawn sky to deliver the EchoStar-23 satellite to orbit so that it can provide data services to Brazil. Strong winds also hold back the previous launch attempt of the same rocket on Tuesday.

Musk's company had won a satellite launch contract worth $82.7 million with the Air Force in 2016.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Thursday (March 16) to deliver the heavyweight EchoStar 23 communications satellite into a high-altitude orbit, a mission near the limit of the booster's capability. Not long after, SpaceX reported that EchoStar XXIII had been safely deposited in a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The Air Force announced today the award of the second competitively sourced National Security Space (NSS) launch services contract in more than a decade. SpaceX streamed the launch on its website. Because of congressional restrictions, ULA said they wouldn't have the Atlas V-its main rocket-and wanted to avoid a "cost shootout".

SpaceX will be transitioning to the Falcon Heavy rocket soon as the Falcon 9 is nearing its final upgrade version.

Image: Launching of EchoStar XXIII satellite. The next private launch, likely toward the end of the month, will launch more communications satellites for both SES and EchoStar.

So far, SpaceX hasn't yet reused the first stage of a rocket on a subsequent mission. These contracts for military launches feature satellites allowing troops to communicate on battlefields.

"SpaceX is proud to have been selected to support this important national security space mission", said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and COO, in a written statement. The Air Force had received two bids for this multi-million contract. The next should be awarded this summer. This is the first instance where these two companies have gone up against each other to bid for a deal. It launched a cluster of 10 Iridium communications satellites January 14, and then a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), for NASA, on February 19.

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