One of the big arguments in favor of investing in space technologies is that the same technology is often used to benefit citizens down here on Earth.
In a new example of an Earth-focused application of space technology, SpaceX has won a U.S. Air Force contract worth over $102 million to help deliver humanitarian aid using heavy rockets, according to a report from SpaceNews.
The contract, part of the U.S. Air Force's $47.9 million Rocket Cargo program, is aimed at developing rocket cargo solutions that can deliver aid as well as military cargo. Neither the U.S Air Force nor SpaceX has so far provided any information regarding which specific rockets will be used for the program. However, Greg Spanjers, rocket cargo program manager, told SpaceNews that the Department of Defense (DoD) wants to develop the capability to quickly deliver humanitarian aid anywhere in the world using specially adapted launch vehicles.
The program's main aim is to "determine exactly what a rocket can achieve when used for cargo transport, what is the true capacity, speed, and cost of the integrated system," Spanjers said.
Delivering cargo to Earth from space
As disaster sites most often won't have commercial spaceports nearby, the Air Force is looking to develop a range of different cargo delivery methods from space. With that in mind, Spanjers said the Air Force will also look to provide contracts to other rocket firms in the future, in order to provide healthy competition for the development of ground-based space cargo delivery technologies — one company that springs to mind is California-based Rocket Lab, which recently unveiled an innovative Hungry Hungry Hippos-inspired satellite payload delivery design for space.
SpaceX has recently won several high-profile contracts, including a contract with NASA to develop a lander for its upcoming Project Artemis missions to the Moon, slated to launch around 2025. The firm has been hard at work testing its Starship launch vehicle, which it eventually hopes to send as part of a crewed mission to Mars. For the new U.S. Air Force contract, SpaceX is expected to provide cargo bay designs that support the rapid load and unload of deliveries. The new partnership between SpaceX and the Air Force provides a use for launch vehicles that may just prove the space technology naysayers wrong.