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The Spy Satellite Launch Bidding War Begins

Jul 17, 2014 04:39 PM EDT
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The US Defense Department has chosen to open up bidding for two future launches of satellites essential for national security. This could potentially end what billionaire genius Elon Musk has called a "monopoly" of space-related US defense contracts held by Beoing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

On Tuesday, the Air Force released a request for proposals from private companies that want to compete for the right to launch a pair of national security-related missions in 2016, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

And Musk's space-faring company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will certainly be vying for that prize.

A mere four days prior to this request, the Air Force certified SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch system as a rocket that has flown in at least three successful flights - a prerequisite for any contract bids with the Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Program. And this past weekend the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved SpaceX plans to build a private spaceport in south Texas.

In the wake of all these approvals, the upstart private space-flight firm may now be able to compete for one of the most lucrative space programs - spy satellite launches.

These military contracts have reportedly made the a combined Boeing-Lockheed venture more than $1 billion since 2006, with Boeing alone making $171 million in profit off last year's launches, according to the Wall Street Journal.

And naturally, SpaceX would love a slice of that pie. The joint venture, redundantly called the United Launch Alliance (ULA), acquired defense department contracts in the past without the government first seeking competitive bids.

However, SpaceX has recently reported that it expects to secure regulatory approval by 2015, and is currently developing the Falcon Heavy - a massive rocket that can carry payloads large enough to pursue all available US movement contracts.

"Opening up more National Security space missions to competition is a step in the right direction and SpaceX welcomes this news," the company said a statement.

However, the ULA won't give up its coveted contracts without a fight.

"United Launch Alliance is well positioned to compete for all missions as the only certified government launch provider that meets all... requirements," the company said, according to the Times.

A ULA rep went on to add that should other companies like SpaceX satisfy all requirements by bidding time, the venture "looks forward to demonstrating its commitment to be the safest, most reliable, and most cost-effective provider."

What polite fighting words.

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