The U.S Air Force (USAF) awarded a contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch two classified spy satellites into orbit.
It’s a huge setback for billionaire Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.
The Department of Defense (DOD) previously stated that it wants ULA to compete directly against SpaceX for this type of launch contract. The USAF awarded the contract to ULA because it was “currently the only responsible source,” presumaby due to the timing and complexity of integrating the satellites into the rockets.
SpaceX, who sued the USAF in federal court for the right to compete for national security missions, now says it understands the decision in this particular case.
“These particular missions had very specific technical requirements,” John Taylor, a SpaceX spokesman, told SpaceNews. “We worked closely with the DoD and the USAF on this action and decided jointly it was the right approach.”
While no figures are available for the contract with ULA, a similar joint venture between defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing reveal that the pricetag could be worth roughly $700 million.
The rockets will carry out classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) missions and will be launched in 2020 and 2023.
ULA almost cornered the market for launch until last year, when SpaceX won USAF certification for national security space missions. In April, SpaceX won the first of only nine launch contracts the DOD intends to put out for bid in the next three years.
ULA has been using Russian-built rockets to launch military and civilian payloads into orbit. Although the Russian prototypes have a record of safety and reliability, some in Congress worry that American dependence on Russian equipment may give Russian President Vladimir Putin dangerous leverage over the American military.
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