Elon Musk’s SpaceX is sitting pretty to become the sole provider of billions of dollars in military satellite launches after United Launch Services failed to submit a bid by the Air Force-imposed deadline.
ULA, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, said it couldn’t bid on the work, primarily due to a government restriction on the number of Russian-made engines it could employ in rockets used for such launches.
That made Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX the sole company submitting a bid by a Nov. 16 deadline.
“ULA wants nothing more than to compete, but unfortunately we are unable to submit a compliant bid for GPS III-X launch services,” Centennial, Colo.-based ULA said in a statement. “ULA remains fully committed to supporting America’s national security missions with world-class launch services. We look forward to working with the Air Force to address the obstacles to ULA’s participation in future launch competitions to enable a full and fair competition.”
The Air Force is expected to name at least one GPS-sat contract winner in March. ULA warned in October that it needed relief from some bidding guidelines, but no waiver was granted.
ULA has been the sole provider of launch services for NASA’s GPS-sat missions in the past, but SpaceX was certified last May to compete for the work in future years.
ULA’s current contract for military GPS-sat launches recently was extended through 2017. The next award will cover missions in 2018 and beyond.
Separately, ULA learned Nov. 12 that it’s won a $373 million contract to modify two rockets for the National Reconnaissance Office and the U.S. Air Force. The modifications involve an Atlas 5 rocket and a Delta 4 Heavy rocket.
The rocket-modification contract reflects a diverse array of potential government contracts for which commercial contracts can compete these days.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden underscored that private-public partnership in a keynote address at Houston space confab Spacecom on Nov. 16.
“Our commercial crew work is taking place right now in 35 states with 350 partners,” Bolden said. “I find that pretty incredible, and that’s just one facet of our efforts.”
The space agency’s global partnerships are equally impressive, he added.
“NASA currently has more than 700 active international agreements with organizations in more than 120 countries,” Bolden said.