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SpaceX leapfrogs United Launch Alliance to win its second US Air Force contract

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SpaceX has bagged its second contract from the US Air Force to launch the latter’s GPS III satellite geared towards national security.

The launch contract is seen as a major win for SpaceX as it brings to an end the exclusivity that United Launch Alliance (ULA) enjoyed as far as U.S. Air Force launch contracts were concerned. The contract is valued at a whopping $96.5 million and according to the US Air Force it is the second of the nine launch contracts it intends to award this year.

SpaceX won a contract from the U.S. Air Force in 2016, but that particular contract was awarded to SpaceX by default as ULA didn’t bid at the time.

United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin founded in 2006, had been the sole satellite launching service provider for the US Air Force in the last decade until SpaceX stepped into the business and won certification to launch military satellites in 2015.

Substantial price difference between satellite launch prices between SpaceX and ULA is seen as one of the major reasons why SpaceX has managed to bag this contract. According to information available on SpaceX’s website, starting price for satellite launch through its Falcon 9 rocket is $62 million, whereas the basic price at which ULA’s Atlas V provides this service is $109 million.

ULA CEO Tory Bruno says that price should not be the judgement factor when one deals with the launching a of a national security satellite. With more bidding lined up ahead, the competition between the two giants will be interesting to watch out.

“SpaceX is proud to have been selected to support this important National Security Space Mission,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement. “We appreciate the confidence that the U.S. Air Force has placed in our company and we look forward to working together towards the successful launch of another GPS-III mission.”

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