SpaceX is most likely going to win a lucrative contract with the United States Air Force to launch a critical GPS satellite. SpaceX was the only company that submitted an application. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) recently announced that it would not submit a bid.
For the past decade, almost every United States national security satellite has been launched by ULA. The company declined to bid for the upcoming GPS 3 satellite launch because it does not expect that it will have an Atlas 5 rocket that can be used in the mission. The launch is set to take place in 2018.
ULA has been seeking relief from an act that was passed by Congress about a year ago. The act requires that the Air Force must phase out its use of the RD-180 engine because of the fact that they are made in Russia. This engine is used to power the Atlas 5 rocket from ULA.
The company said early last month that the lack of availability of the engine could prevent it from bidding on the important GPS 3 launch. ULA says that it does not have the proper accounting system in place to submit a compliant bid to the Air Force.
The company said in a statement, “ULA wants nothing more than to compete, but unfortunately we are unable to submit a compliant bid for GPS III-X launch services. The request for proposals requires ULA to certify that funds from other government contracts will not benefit the GPS III launch mission. ULA does not have the accounting systems in place to make that certification, and therefore cannot submit a compliant proposal.”
ULA also complained that the launch solicitation does not allow for the differentiation between competitors based on important factors like reliability, technological capabilities and proven performance.
The Air Force started accepting proposals for the launch at the end of September. Bids were required to be submitted by last Monday. In March, the Air Force is expected to announce that SpaceX will be awarded the contract.
The United States Department of Defense has been trying to increase competition in the natural security launch market. The market has essentially been a monopoly ever since Boeing and Lockheed Martin merged their launching business in 2006. The decision from ULA to not submit a bid is a setback to the efforts of the Defense Department.
The 2018 GPS 3 mission will be the first of nine medium-class satellite launches that the Air Force is planning to put out for bidding by the end of 2017. Six of these nine launches will be for GPS 3 satellites.