The US Air Force has announced that it has selected two companies to launch their rocket launches over the next few years: SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA). Overall, the contract with SpaceX is valued at $ 316 million and the contract with ULA is valued at $ 337 million.
The decision was made by the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center and the National Reconnaissance Office. The second phase of the contract begins this year and runs through 2024, with the first launches expected in 2022.
The Air Force has already planned the launches that the companies will undertake, beginning with two ULA launches in the second quarter of 2022 and one more in the fourth quarter and one more SpaceX launch in the fourth quarter of 2022. The Air Force has announced that as part of the Contract to order launch services each year, with around 60% of launches being performed by ULA and 40% by SpaceX.
There were two other companies also vying for part of this contract, longtime government contractor Northrop Grumman and Jeff Bezos & # 39; Blue Origin. However, the Air Force decided against using any of these companies. As reported by Ars Technica, the main criterion in deciding which companies to contract was "the ability to meet our technical factors to accomplish the mission".
ULA has a long history of launching for the Air Force, and SpaceX appears to have impressed government agency NASA with their work on the Crew Dragon capsule for transporting NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX has also already developed its Falcon Heavy rocket, which would be suitable for these Air Force launches, while ULA is still developing its new rocket to replace the Atlas V.
"This was an extremely difficult decision, and I appreciate the hard work the industry has put in customizing their commercial launch systems to cost-effectively and reliably meet our more stringent national security requirements," said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Launch Enterprise Space and Missile Systems Center in a statement. "I look forward to working with ULA and SpaceX as we near our first Phase 2 launches."