Sept. 27 (UPI) -- California-based Rocket Lab has won a contract for $24.35 million from the U.S. Space Force to develop an upper stage for the company's Neutron rocket system.
The contract, announced Monday, cements the firm's commitment to becoming a launch provider for the nation's national security space program, according to a Rocket Lab news release.
The contract is part of a $75 million research and development program approved by the Congress to advance upper-stage rocket technology of U.S.-based launch systems.
While a rocket's first stage gets it off the ground and into space, launch providers use the second stage to place spacecraft into precise orbits.
The agreement places Rocket Lab in a unique position, where only SpaceX and United Launch Alliance were previous government contractors.
Rocket Lab's small Electron rocket has launched 105 satellites, mostly from New Zealand, since it was founded by CEO Peter Beck in 2006, according to the company. Some of those launches included payloads for the U.S. Space Force and NASA.
The company announced plans for a larger Neutron rocket in March and became publicly traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange in August.
The new Space Force contract is a vote of confidence in the Neutron plan, Beck said in a news release.
"We've built a trusted launch system with Electron, and we'll do it again with Neutron to continue providing unfettered access to space with our new heavier-lift vehicle," Beck said in the release.