Air Force awards SpaceX and ULA billions in launch contracts

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The U.S. Air Force awarded billions in contracts Friday to Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, as part of its National Security Space launch services.

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ULA will receive $337 million for two launches in 2022, and SpaceX will receive $316 million for one launch that same year. ULA will get 60% and SpaceX will get 40% of the launch contracts after that, which will total billions of dollars.

ULA president and CEO Tory Bruno touted his company new Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is replacing its older Atlas and Delta rockets.

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“Vulcan Centaur provides higher performance and greater affordability while continuing to deliver our unmatched reliability and orbital precision that will continue to provide reliable, on-time access to space well into the future,” he said in a statement.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Northrop Grumman and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origins were also competing for the contracts.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said he was “disappointed in the decision” of the Air Force not taking their offer, which was based on an “unprecedented private investment of more than $2.5 billion” in its New Glenn rocket, but that they will continue to develop it.

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The New Glenn rocket’s first stage is designed to be reused 25 times. SpaceX has also designed its rockets, such as the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, with reusability in mind. Musk’s company says “a rapidly reusable space launch vehicle could reduce the cost of traveling to space by a hundredfold.”

The Air Force said Friday that contracting with private companies this way has saved them $7 billion since 2013.

“This was an extremely tough decision and I appreciate the hard work industry completed to adapt their commercial launch systems to affordably and reliably meet our more stressing national security requirements,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise in a statement.

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