The U.S. Air Force announced on Wednesday the award of an $83 million global positioning satellite launch contract to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), breaking a decade-long monopoly held by United Launch Alliance (ULA).
"This GPS III Launch Services contract award achieves a balance between mission success, meeting operational needs, lowering launch costs, and reintroducing competition for National Security Space missions," said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space and SMC commander.
The SpaceX contract is for the second GPS III mission that is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in May 2018.
ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin that had been the sole provider of launch vehicles under an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) contract with the U.S. Air Force.
In 2013, ULA was awarded a sole-source contract for launch services as part of an Air Force "block buy" of 36 rocket cores that resulted in significant savings for the government through FY 2017. SpaceX then filed a federal lawsuit which complained of ULA's monopoly and reliance on the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine.
After SpaceX's lawsuit, the Air Force and Department of Defense made a concerted effort to reintroduce a competitive procurement environment into the EELV with a 'Phase 1A' procurement strategy. Under the previous 'Phase 1' strategy, ULA was the only certified launch provider.
SpaceX was certified for EELV launches in May 2015 which resulted in two launch service providers that are capable to deliver national security space satellites to orbit.
The Air Force stated that the SpaceX contract is the first of nine competitive launch services planned under the current Phase 1A procurement strategy, which covers awards with FY 2015-2018 funding. The next solicitation for launch services will be for a second GPS III satellite.
Photo credit: SpaceX