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The competition cools down: ULA has decided against bidding on a military GPS launch contract, leaving the field clear for SpaceX.
ULA, which for the past decade has launched nearly every U.S. national security satellite, said Nov. 16 it did not submit a bid to launch a GPS 3 satellite for the Air Force in 2018 in part because it does not expect to have an Atlas 5 rocket available for the mission. ULA has been pushing for relief from legislation Congress passed roughly a year ago requiring the Air Force to phase out its use of the Russian-made RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s workhorse Atlas 5 rocket.
This decision might be a lobbying effort by ULA to force Congress to give them additional waivers on using the Atlas 5 engine. Or it could be that they realize that they wouldn’t be able to match SpaceX’s price, and decided it was pointless wasting time and money putting together a bid. Either way, the decision suggests that ULA is definitely challenged in its competition with SpaceX, and until it gets a new lower cost rocket that is not dependent on Russian engines, its ability to compete in the launch market will be seriously hampered.