WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has awarded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. a $4.2 million contract to study the integration of an unspecified satellite with the company’s Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket, according to a posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website March 25.

Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX is expected to become the first new competitive entrant in the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, which is used to launch virtually all operational U.S. national security satellites. Nearly all of those missions are currently launched aboard EELV prime contractor United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets.

In 2012, the Air Force announced it was negotiating the purchase, on a sole-source basis, of as many as 36 Atlas and Delta rocket cores during a five-year period from ULA. At the same time, however, the service said it planned to competitively award an additional 14 missions to give companies like SpaceX a chance to win Pentagon business. The number of competitively selected missions has since been reduced to seven before 2018.

SpaceX is expected to receive formal certification to launch national security missions as soon as the end of the calendar year.

The study is labeled as an early integration study and is “unique to each potential launch service provider and its own launch vehicle configuration,” the posting said.

An option for an additional study is included, the posting said.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.