SpaceX is going to give a new dimension to the meaning of “same-day delivery”, as the U.S. military wants the space agency to transport cargo anywhere on Earth in less than an hour.
To achieve this feat, SpaceX will have to develop a new type of rocket that can carry massive payloads in and out of the Earth’s atmosphere, at speeds of 6,000 mph (9650 km/h) and a max altitude of 400,000 feet (121 km). In practice though, the transport will most likely take place through the mesosphere, between 50 and 80 km of altitude.
The U.S. Transportation Command is currently dealing with a gap in its operations since they don’t have a transport plane that can meet its demands. Yes, they could keep on building and using the “good old” Boeing C-17 Globemaster, but that’s far from what the U.S. Army wants and needs right now.
Transport planes are just inadequate in terms of speed, and they are also much more vulnerable. The only role they can continue to play is that of moving personnel around, which won’t be feasible with SpaceX’s rockets.
Elon Musk told the press that there’s a lot of excitement about this opportunity within the company, and they may present a prototype of this new rocket by 2021. The man is always too optimistic with timelines, so we’d take this statement with a grain of salt.
At the same time, the Pentagon has contracted SpaceX for another project, agreeing to allocate $149 million on it. That project has to do with the development of a missile tracking system that will rely on LOE satellites. The sats will be able to identify and track even hypersonic glide vehicles and missiles, so nothing will be able to “fly under the radar”.
So, all in all, SpaceX is now actively taking part in the military aspect of its homeland, and considering the rising importance of space, we’re to see a lot more coming from that direction.