SpaceX ULA military contract years in the making, Report.
Ending a process that began almost two years ago, the US Air Force (now Space Force) has selected SpaceX and ULA to be the recipients of a multibillion-dollar series of launch contracts that stretch into the late 2020s.
Known as the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Services Acquisition (LSA), the US Air Force publicly began the initiative in Q4 2018. In May 2019, the LSA process was opened to bidders and the military ultimately received serious proposals from SpaceX, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin.
While the latter three companies proposed their respective next-generation rockets – still in development – to complete at least a dozen military launches from 2022 to 2027, SpaceX offered up Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. As of April 2020, Falcon 9 officially usurped ULA’s Atlas V rocket to become the United States’ most prolific operational rocket. While ULA has technically included Atlas V as a backup option in its NSSL Phase 2 bid, the company’s primary launch vehicle is Vulcan Centaur, scheduled to fly for the first time no earlier than July 2021.
As a result, failing to award SpaceX at least one of the two NSSL LSA Phase 2 slots – split 60:40 – would have almost assuredly made a farce of the US military competition. The real question, then, was who would win the other award, and whether the US military would shock the industry with a final decision more technical than political. As previously discussed on Teslarati, the fact that four separate companies submitted serious bids for Phase 2 gave the US military a significant opportunity.
Despite repeated petitions by Blue Origin and the attempted intervention of lawmakers in Congress, the US military remained ardently against awarding Phase 2 launch contracts to more than two providers throughout the competition. Barring a successful protest from snubbed bidders Northrop Grumman and/or Blue Origin, it appears that the military ultimately won the battle, selecting two providers.