WASHINGTON The U.S. Air Force said on Friday it awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Elon Musk’s SpaceX $653 million in combined military launch contracts under the Pentagon’s next-generation, multibillion-dollar launch capability program.
The contracts are for launch service orders beginning in 2022 and allocate $337 million to ULA, a joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, and $316 million to SpaceX for the first missions of roughly 34 total that the two rocket firms will support through 2027.
ULA will receive a contract for approximately 60% of those launch service orders using its next-generation Vulcan rocket while Musk’s SpaceX, using its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, will receive approximately 40%, the Air Force’s acquisition chief Will Roper told reporters on Friday.
The awards are part of the Pentagon’s 2014 mandate from Congress to curb its dependency on rockets using Russiaâ€™s RD-180 engine and transition to U.S.-made rockets for launching Washington’s most sensitive national security payloads to space.
The program, called National Security Space Launch Phase 2, is aimed at “building a competitive industry base that we hope doesn’t just help military and national security missions, but that helps our nation continue to compete and dominate in space,” Roper added.
“Todayâ€™s awards mark a new epoch of space launch that will finally transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines,” Roper said in a statement.
The two companies lay claim to billions of dollars in lucrative military contracts for a span of five years that competitors Blue Origin, the space company of Amazon.com Inc owner Jeff Bezos, and Northrop Grumman also competed for.
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Blue Origin Chief Executive Bob Smith said in a statement he was “disappointed” in the Pentagon’s decision, adding that the company will continue to develop its heavy-lift New Glenn rocket “to fulfill our current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts.”
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