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article imageULA didn't have a chance to compete with SpaceX for X-37B flight

By Karen Graham     Jun 9, 2017 in Technology
Two days after the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee confirmed that the next flight of the military's secretive X-37B spaceplane would go up on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, United Launch Alliance tweeted they had not been allowed to bid on the project.
United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, said on Friday they were not given the opportunity to bid against SpaceX on the contract for the launch of the Air Force's secretive spaceplane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle.
Tory Bruno, the president and chief executive officer of ULA, tweeted June 9 in response to a question that his company didn’t have the chance to bid on the launch contract. ULA confirmed the tweet in a statement to Space News.
Space News
The Verge reported the contract with SpaceX was made public on Tuesday when Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson disclosed during Congressional testimony that the fifth mission of the X-37B would be taken up on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is scheduled for sometime in August.
File photo of X-37B at Vandenburg AFB
File photo of X-37B at Vandenburg AFB
U.S. govt.
United Launch Alliance has launched the previous four X-37B missions aboard their Atlas 5 rockets. Needless to say, an Air Force spokesperson declined to comment on the launch or the contract with SpaceX, saying they could not provide any details, According to Space News.
Reuters is reporting that SpaceX's first publicly acknowledged launch contract for the Air Force was awarded last year for a next-generation Global Positioning System satellite flight in 2018, while a second GPS satellite launch contract was awarded in March this year, to the tune of $83 million and $96.5 million respectively.
The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft sits on top of an Atlas V rocket on March 22  2016 at Cape Canaver...
The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft sits on top of an Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, ahead of its launch to the International Space Station
United Launch Alliance, NASA/AFP
It should be noted that ULA did not compete for the first of the two GPS satellite contracts but did compete on the second, but lost. Folks will remember that on May 1, SpaceX sent up a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from its Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 39. About nine minutes later, the Falcon 9 booster successfully touched down on a landing pad on Florida's Space Coast. The NRO spy satellite contract was awarded in May 2016.
And there is no doubt that it has come to a competition between ULA and SpaceX. It's all about cost. “Competition is reducing the cost of launch services,” Wilson said at the Congressional hearing. “Currently we’ve got two providers for medium and heavy launch." And if SpaceX can continue to successfully relaunch their Falcon 9 booster rockets, it will reduce the cost.
More about Air Force contract, Spacex, ula, competitive bidding, X37B spaceplane
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