The US Air Force announced that it has selected two companies for rocket launches in the next few years: SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance. In total, the contract with SpaceX is worth US$316 million, and the contract with ULA is worth US$337 million.
The decision was made by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and the National Reconnaissance Agency. The second phase of the contract will begin this year and will last until 2024. The first launch is expected in 2022.
The Air Force has planned the launches they want the two companies to perform, starting with two ULA launches in the second quarter of 2022, another launch in the fourth quarter, and further SpaceX launch in the fourth quarter of 2022.
The Air Force has stated that it hopes to order launch services each year as part of the contract, of which approximately 60% of the launches are performed by ULA and 40% by SpaceX.
Two other companies are also competing for part of the contract. They are long-term government contractors Northrop Grumman and Jeff Bezos’s “Blue Origin.” However, the Air Force decided not to use either of these two companies.
As reported by Ars Technica, the most important criterion it uses to decide which companies to sign with is “the ability to meet our technical factors to perform tasks.”
ULA has long-term experience in executing launches for the Air Force. SpaceX seems to have produced the “Crew Dragon” capsule for government agency NASA, which is used to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.
SpaceX has also developed a Falcon Heavy rocket suitable for launch by these air forces, and ULA is still developing its new rocket to replace AtlasV.
Colonel Robert Bongiovi, Director of Launch Enterprise of the Space and Missile Systems Center, said: “This is a very difficult decision. I appreciate the hard work that has been done to complete their commercial launch system so that their commercial launch system can be affordable and reliable. Meet our increasing national security requirements.“
In a statement. “When we first launch Phase 2, I look forward to working with ULA and SpaceX.“