Company wins $96.5 million contract from U.S. Air Force to put GPS satellite in space.
Andy Pasztor writes: The U.S. Air Force picked Elon Musk’s SpaceX to blast a second Global Positioning System satellite into orbit, part of a broader drive to open up various other launch contracts for competitive bidding through late 2019.
Tuesday’s award of the $96.5 million, fixed-price contract to SpaceX indicates that faced with escalating budget pressures and heightened congressional prodding, Pentagon brass are stepping up efforts to give the Southern California company additional opportunities to become a significant provider of military satellite launches.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has battled for years and even took the military to court to be allowed to bid on such contracts using its Falcon 9 booster. The latest developments mark another victory in the company’s campaign to snare business away from its dominant rival, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.
SpaceX became eligible to conduct military launches in May 2015 and won its first Pentagon contract, also for a GPS navigation satellite, in April 2016.
The rival venture, called United Launch Alliance, for more than a decade had enjoyed a monopoly boosting large military satellites into orbit before SpaceX entered the fray. Until then, the venture’s average launch costs hovered around $200 million per mission.
United Launch still remains on top when it comes to lofting the largest, most expensive and highest-security spy satellites and other national-security payloads. It can cost more than $500 million to transport such satellites into space using the heavy-lift variant of the Delta IV rocket. Last month, two senior members of the House Armed Services Committee called on the Pentagon to ensure continued use of the Delta IV.
But in announcing its award of the contract to SpaceX, the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center also said it was making the company eligible to compete for five additional contracts through late 2019. That brings to 14 the total number of launch contracts the Air Force has committed to make competitive through that period, according to the release. … (read more)