WASHINGTON – The Air Force Department announced on August 7 that employees of United Launch Alliance and SpaceX have been selected to receive five-year contracts totaling $ 653 million to launch national security satellites for the U.S. military and intelligence agencies.
The United Launch Alliance was awarded a $ 337 million contract and SpaceX was awarded a $ 316 million contract for launches planned between budget 2022 and budget 2027, according to the Pentagon announcement. The US government’s fiscal year begins on October 1.
The companies beat Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman in the four-way competition known as National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement.
SpaceX and ULA will collectively fly up to 34 missions for the Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office under the established, indefinite delivery agreements.
“Maintaining a competitive launch market, serving both government and commercial customers, is how we encourage continued innovation in secure access to space,”
Roper said the Phase 2 awards mark an important point in the transition to the national safety launch program to take advantage of commercial innovation and private investment in launch vehicles.
“Today’s awards mark a new era of spacecraft that will eventually transfer the Department of Defense from Russian RD-180 engines,” he said.
The transition to new launch vehicles is also forced by a legislative mandate to end the Pentagon’s confidence in the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, which has the Russian RD-180 as its main engine. By law, DoD will not be allowed to purchase Atlas 5 launches after December 31, 2022.
In phase 2, ULA will receive 60 percent of the assignments and SpaceX will receive 40 percent. The Air Force will assign specific rockets each year depending on the missions required.
The Air Force has insisted that it does not commit to buying a preset number of launches. The estimate of 34 assignments for the covered five-year period may change when priorities and budgets vary from year to year
The high-stakes Phase 2 competition officially started in May 2019 when the US Air Force released the final application for bids. Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance all submitted bids in August 2019. ULA and SpaceX are established launch suppliers, while Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman are new players.
ULA is developing a new vehicle for phase 2, the Vulcan Centaur, a two-stage heavy lift car with the main stage powered by Blue Origins BE-4 engine.
SpaceX offered Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, the only certified vehicles competing in Phase 2.