The U.S. Air Force has announced it is has chosen two companies to perform its rocket launches over the next several years: SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA). In total, the contract with SpaceX will be worth $316 million and the contract with ULA will be worth $337 million.
The decision was made by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and the National Reconnaissance Office, and Phase 2 of the contract begins this year and runs to 2024, with the first launches expected in 2022.
The Air Force has already planned out the launches it wants the companies to perform, beginning with two ULA launches in the second quarter of 2022 and one more in the fourth quarter, as well as a further SpaceX launch in the fourth quarter of 2022. The Air Force has indicated it expects to order launch services each year as part of the contract, with around 60% of launches being performed by ULA and 40% performed by SpaceX.
There were two more companies also vying for part of this contract, long-standing government contractor Northrop Grumman and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. However, the Air Force decided against making use of either of these companies. As reported by Ars Technica, the most important criterion it used to decide which companies to contract was “the ability to meet our technical factors to do the mission.”
ULA has long experience performing launches for the Air Force, and SpaceX seems to have impressed government agency NASA with its work on the Crew Dragon capsule for transporting NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX has also developed its Falcon Heavy rocket already which would be suitable for these Air Force launches, while ULA is still in the process of developing its new rocket to succeed the Atlas V.
“This was an extremely tough decision and I appreciate the hard work industry completed to adapt their commercial launch systems to affordably and reliably meet our more stressing national security requirements,” Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise, said in a statement. “I look forward to working with ULA and SpaceX as we progress towards our first Phase 2 launches.”
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