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ULA wins competition for $191 million Air Force launch

The ULA Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Air Force's SBIRS GEO-3 satellite sits on the pad ready for launch, but will have to wait at least another day after  the attempt was scrubbed. Credit: ULA

WASHINGTON — The Air Force selected United Launch Alliance as the launch provider for an experimental blast detection satellite, beating out SpaceX, the service announced June 29.

The $191.1 million contract is for the Space Test Program (STP) 3 mission, set to lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in June 2019 aboard an Atlas 5 rocket in the 551 configuration. The service said that $184.9 million is being awarded at the time of the contract using fiscal year 2017 space procurement funding.

The Air Force put the STP-3 launch up for bid in September 2016, giving SpaceX and ULA until December to submit proposals. It’s just the third competitively-bid national security space launch contract after an era where ULA — a joint venture between defense industry giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin — was the government’s sole source for launches.

The effort is part of the Air Force’s “Phase 1A,” an effort to “reintroduce a competitive procurement environment” into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, the service said. This particular phase is set to cover 15 competitively-bid launches through 2019, at which point the military hopes to have several launch providers as options.

SpaceX won the first two launch contracts, including a GPS 3 launch that was awarded in March. While other companies are developing their own launch systems, currently SpaceX and ULA are the only two companies certified for EELV-class launches.

“The competitive award of the STP-3 Launch Services contract to United Launch Alliance directly supports [the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s] mission of delivering resilient and affordable space capabilities to our nation,” Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, SMC commander, said in a statement.

The payload for STP-3 will be the STPSat-6 vehicle with the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Space and Atmospheric Burst Reporting System-3, an experimental blast detection system. It will also carry NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration payload and six secondary payloads the Air Force said would be announced no later than a year prior to launch.

“We are honored that the Air Force has entrusted ULA with launching this important test mission,” ULA president and CEO Tory Bruno said in a statement. “With a mission success record of 100 percent and a tremendous heritage of 71 consecutive successful Atlas V launches, we provide the best overall launch service for our customers. ULA is the choice for customers when a critical payload must be delivered to space on-time and safely.”

SpaceNews.com

Source: Space News

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ULA wins competition for $191 million Air Force launch

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