In a boost for privately funded space ventures, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. expects to announce Wednesday that it has signed a $492-million contract to launch rockets carrying satellites for a mobile telecommunications company.
The deal represents a major breakthrough for the Hawthorne-based rocket company, known as SpaceX, which has been pushing a low-cost way to lift commercial satellites into space.
Two weeks ago, the company, co-founded by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, successfully test launched its Falcon 9 rocket, which analysts said is likely to be the vehicle that takes the satellites into orbit.
A SpaceX spokeswoman declined to provide additional details other than to say that a formal announcement was expected Wednesday.
SpaceX, which assembles the rocket in Hawthorne, also has a $1.6-billion contract for 12 flights to transport 20 tons of cargo to the space station for NASA through 2016.
The latest contract, with Iridium Communications Inc. of McLean, Va., could include eight to nine launches in order to take 72 telecommunication satellites into space from 2015 to 2017, said Tim Farrar, president of consulting and research firm Telecom, Media & Finance Associates.