SpaceX and ULA score multi-million dollar military launch contract

Andrei Stanescu/iStockBy CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — SpaceX and United Launch Alliance scored a lucrative multi-million dollar contract to launch national security missions for the U.S. government.

The deal puts Elon Musk’s private space exploration company in charge of 40% of launch mission services from the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missiles Systems Center through fiscal year 2024. It puts ULA — the joint venture backed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing — in charge of 60% of launch services, the U.S. Air Force announced last Friday.

The first of the launches are scheduled for liftoff in fiscal year 2022. Initial contracts will be issued to the ULA for $337 million and SpaceX for $316 million for launch services to meet fiscal year 2022 launch dates, according to the Air Force.

“This landmark award begins the dawn of a new decade in U.S. launch innovation, while promoting competition, maintaining a healthy industrial base, and reinforcing our global competitive advantage,” Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in California, said in a statement announcing the deal.

“This acquisition will maintain our unprecedented mission success record, transition National Security Space payloads to new launch vehicles, assure access for current and future space architectures, and cultivate innovative mission assurance practices,” Thompson added.

Dr. William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, added that the deals “mark a new epoch of space launch that will finally transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines.”

The Colorado-based ULA’s president and CEO Tory Bruno said the company was “honored” to be selected.

Bruno added that the company’s latest launch vehicle, the Vulcan Centaur, is the “right choice for critical national security space missions and was purpose built to meet all of the requirements of our nation’s space launch needs.” The Vulcan Centaur was largely created through funding from the government’s initial National Security Space Launch program.

In securing the lucrative Pentagon deal, the companies beat out competitors Northrop Grumman and the Jeff Bezos-backed firm Blue Origin.

Blue Origin’s CEO Bob Smith said in a statement that they were “disappointed” in the decision and that they had “submitted an incredibly compelling offer for the national security community and the U.S. taxpayer.”

Northrop Grumman similarly expressed disappointment in the decision in a statement, saying, “We are confident we submitted a strong proposal that reflected our extensive space launch experience and provided value to our customer, and we are looking forward to our debriefing from the customer.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment Monday. The good news for SpaceX comes on the heels of its successful partnership with NASA to launch U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station.

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