The Department of Defense is sticking with SpaceX and United Launch Alliance as its two primary launch services for United States national security missions for the foreseeable future.
In an announcement on Friday (August 7), US Space Force and Air Force officials said SpaceX and ULA had won military launch contracts worth several billion dollars to launch payloads from national security over the next five years, with ULA receiving 60% of satellite launch contracts and SpaceX receiving 40%.
The awards were part of a four-way launch services competition known as the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement announced in 2018. SpaceX and ULA took on Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin.
SpaceX was actually left out of the first round, with the Air Force awarding development dollars to ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin for $ 967 million, $ 792 million, and $ 500 million. respectively. But the California-based rocket builder ultimately won part of the prize.
“It was an extremely difficult decision and I appreciate the hard work of the industry to adapt their commercial launch systems to affordably and reliably meet our most stressful national security requirements,”said Col. Robert Bongiovi. , director of the Space and Missile Systems Center launch company, said in a statement
The Air Force has selected SpaceX’s existing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets for national security launches, as well as ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is still in development. Currently estimated to make its maiden flight in 2021 , ULA’s Vulcan Centaur will end the country’s dependence on the Russian-built RD-180 engine currently used by the company’s current workhorse, the Atlas V rocket.
The Defense Ministry attempted to end reliance on the Russian engine and awarded ULA the undergraduate development funding to help develop the new rocket. The Vulcan Centaur will be powered by a Blue Origin BE-4 Engine.
So far, the Air Force has ordered three missions for 2022 as part of the new offerings. SpaceX will earn $ 316 million to launch a mission, called USSF-67, at the end of 2022. ULA has received $ 337 million to launch two missions – USSF-51 and USSF-106 – scheduled for the second and fourth quarters of the fiscal year 2022, respectively.
Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman have both expressed disappointment that they were not selected in the Phase 2 contracts, but are expected to continue developing their respective launchers. Blue Origin is currently developing a new orbital rocket, the New Glenn, while Northrop Grumman is developing the OmegA booster for future launches.