USAF awards SpaceX $102M to test point-to-point Starship flights

The United States Air Force (USAF) has awarded SpaceX $102 million for the development of the Starship point-to-point transportation system. 

The five-year contract was awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (ARFL). Its goal is to explore the possibility of using the Starship system to transport cargo to any point on the globe, in the interests of the Department of Defense. 

SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced a plan to use Starship for “earth-to-earth” travel back in 2017. Recently, with the successful tests of the platform, the idea received renewed publicity and garnered attention of various governmental structures. 

In 2021, the USAF declared Rocket Cargo as one of the four Vanguard programs, and earmarked $9.7 million in its budget for exploring the idea. The program is also present in USAF 2022 budget, which dedicates $47.9 million to it. The additional $102 million constitute a significant step-up in comparison with those numbers. 

The new contract will help 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,” Greg Spanjers, Rocket Cargo program manager, told Space News.  

As per contract, ARFL will collect data during commercial launches of the Starship, explore the compatibility of its cargo bay with the containers used by the US Transportation Command, research landing systems and eventually demonstrate launch and landing process of a cargo-loaded Starship. 

“We are therefore exploring a wider range of novel trajectories to mitigate overflight issues, exploring a broad range of landing options for austere sites, researching human factors when landing near populations and integrating a broader range of cargo, including medical supplies,” Spanjers told Defense news. 

In many regards, the contract is similar to another one awarded by the Transportation Command to SpaceX, along with another corporation called XArc in 2020, aimed to explore the applications of rapid transportation through space. 

If realized, the point-to-point Starship flights would allow passengers and cargo to be delivered to any location on the Earth within minutes.  

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