The Air Force denied a rumor Wednesday that claimed SpaceX had offered to launch ― for free ― a national security payload aboard the maiden Falcon Heavy launch earlier this month.
The claim was originally asserted in a tweet by Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA.
“I was told by a SpaceX VP at the launch that they offered free launches to NASA, Air Force etc. but got no takers,” the former #2 at NASA wrote on Twitter.
Capt. Victoria B. Porto, a spokeswoman for Air Force’s Space Command, however, denied such an offer was made.
“There were no official offers to launch a payload on the Falcon Heavy for free made to the Air Force,” Porto told C4ISRNET.
A SpaceX spokesman did not return emails seeking comment.
In theory, such an offer would have been worth tens of millions of dollars to the Air Force, but also carried substantial risk for the Falcon Heavy’s maiden launch.
The other space agency mentioned by Garver’s tweet, NASA, denied the claim in a statement to GeekWire.
As space becomes an increasingly contested domain, the Air Force has stressed the need for low cost launch options to send satellites and other payloads more easily and affordably.
When SpaceX entered the commercial launch market in 2010, the company’s founder, Elon Musk, announced that launch affordability would be SpaceX’s top priority. At the time, the United Launch Alliance dominated the market and was known for focusing on reliability.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has the capability to carry a payload of 140,000 pounds to low earth orbit, more than twice as much as its competitors. The payload on board the Feb. 6 Falcon Heavy launch was a cherry red Tesla Roadster.
When NASA denied Garver’s claims about SpaceX accepting a free Falcon Heavy payload, Garver said the word came from a “very senior SpaceX employee” several months ago.