SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: SpaceX

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force disclosed plans to award SpaceX a contract worth about $1 million to study the ins and outs of mating national security satellites to the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.

According to a justification and approval document posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website Aug. 26, the $962,000 contract would cover 10 studies as the service prepares to enter a new era of competitively awarded launch missions.

For nearly a decade, the Defense Department has relied exclusively on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets to launch its operational military and intelligence satellites. But in May, the Air Force certified the Falcon 9 rocket to launch national security missions.

The Falcon 9 remains grounded following a June 28 failure, its first in 18 missions, but SpaceX expects to have it flying again in the coming month or two.

Air Force leaders are expected to release a final request for proposals to launch a GPS 3 navigation satellite soon. SpaceX is expected to bid on that mission, and a victory in that competition would mark its arrival as a true player in the national security launch market.

The Air Force document says additional Falcon 9-satellite integration studies could be required through fiscal year 2022 as the service completes a second round of competitively bid missions. SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, has been under contract for other integration studies with the Defense Department since at least March 2014.

Denver-based ULA has previously performed these studies on the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets, the document 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.