The era of Boeing and Lockheed Martin's monopoly on military space launches has just ended, after the US Air Force awarded an $82.7-million contract to launch a GPS satellite to Elon Musk's upstart SpaceX.
According to Reuters, this is the first time in ten years the Air Force actually opened a launch contract to bidding from someone other than Boeing/Lockheed's United Launch Alliance. Of course, ULA didn't actually take bid on this contract, which is for a launch in 2018. The organization cited a number of reasons for not competing for this contract, with a former VP for the alliance blaming SpaceX's more affordable pricing.
ULA's official line blamed accounting issues and trade sanctions that could limit the importation of Russian-made rocket parts. This new satellite launch is just the first of eight between now and 2018 that will be open competitive bidding, Reuters reports. SpaceX is no stranger to government work – it's long been a NASA partner – but this marks its first military contract. If it's able to keep undercutting ULA, we wouldn't be surprised to see SpaceX snag a few more of the upcoming open contracts.
SpaceX's contract covers everything from the production of a Falcon 9 rocket to "spacecraft integration, launch operations and spaceflight certification," Reuters reports.