Air Force awards launch contracts (3 each) to ULA and SpaceX


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Capitalism in space: The Air Force yesterday announced the awarding of launch contracts to both SpaceX and ULA, giving each company three launches.

ULA will receive $441.76 million under a fixed-price contract to launch SBIRS GEO-5, SBIRS GEO-6 and Silent Barker, a classified space situational awareness mission.

SpaceX will receive $297 million to launch AFSPC-44, NROL-85, and NROL-87.

Note the difference in price. While the specific missions might have requirements that make the ULA launches more expensive, I suspect that most of the difference has to do with SpaceX’s ability to simply do it cheaper. The Air Force however did not give all the contracts to SpaceX because it has strategic reasons to have two independent launch companies. It also faces political pressure to support both companies, regardless of cost, as illustrated by recent stories about the political gamesmanship between SpaceX and ULA.

This story does illustrate however how the competition from SpaceX has forced ULA to lower its prices. For these three launches they are charging an average of about $147 million. Before SpaceX’s competition, their price per launch generally averaged more than $225 million. Isn’t competition wonderful?

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2 comments

  • wodun

    Cost isn’t the only factor that these companies differ from each other. Everyday Astronaut had a good breakdown of the capabilities of the different launchers, which I can’t find now :(

    For example, an Atlas V can put more mass into GTO than a Falcon 9. Also, a Falcon Heavy has the same size fairing as a Falcon 9 and will have a smaller fairing than New Glenn.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “Isn’t competition wonderful?

    This is an example of one of the best parts of competition. It forces the competitors to find efficiencies that they did not previously have, allowing for reduced prices for the same product or service. (Improved products or services is another of the best parts.) Because Falcon 9 was certified for Air Force payloads, ULA found efficiencies that allowed for these reduces prices.

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