Musk's SpaceX May Win First U.S. Defense Launch as Rival Exits

Five of the Most Important (and Awesome) SpaceX Launches

Elon Musk’s SpaceX may win its first U.S. military satellite launch after the only other certified bidder, a Boeing Co.-Lockheed Martin Corp. joint venture, decided not to compete.

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SpaceX submitted a proposal for the 2018 mission by Monday’s deadline, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public. United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed operator, told the Air Force in a letter that the terms of the contest kept it from making a qualifying bid.

“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,” spokeswoman Jessica Rye said in an e-mailed statement.

The showdown over rights to launch a global positioning satellite was to have been the first between the two companies since Space Exploration Technologies Corp. won U.S. Air Force certification for national-security missions in May. United Launch Alliance had been the sole supplier of sensitive satellite launches, a market estimated to be worth at about $70 billion through 2030 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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Inside the Dragon V2 Space Taxi.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

United Launch officials had said they might not bid on the competition unless the Defense Department waived restrictions limiting imports of Russian-made rocket engines used to power its launch vehicles for the missions.

The Pentagon has sought to have two providers for critical launches to drive down costs and provide a crucial backup in case one vehicle is grounded. Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket has been idled since one exploded shortly after takeoff in June.

SpaceX plans to charge less than $100 million for military missions, Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in March. The Boeing-Lockheed company charges $160 million or more for the comparably sized Atlas V rocket, according to Teal Group estimates.

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