SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance beat Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin on Friday after a long battle for five year’s worth of National Security Space launch services.
According to Forbes, the contract, also called the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement, gives United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX a 60-40 split of about 30 missions for the Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office. ULA will receive the 60 percent and the 40 percent will be for SpaceX. Three missions were assigned on Friday. GeekWire reports the ULA has two missions, the USSF-51 and USSF-106, in 2022 and SpaceX has been assigned the USS-67 mission the same year.
The context of this deal goes back to 2018. Due to rising geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Russia (the U.S. decided not to use Russia’s rockets). But why has the U.S. been using Russian rockets? According to NBC News, U.S. defense contractors utilized Russian engines to launch military rockets into space before the Cold War. Since then, Vladimir Putin has opposed America’s interest in Syria and other countries which has made the U.S. vulnerable to national security by using of Russian technology. Back in 2016, the Senate passed an amendment which instructed the U.S. Department of Defense to not buy Russian Atlas 5 Rockets after December 31st of 2022. This allows for rockets produced by big businesses to be used instead.
Lt. Gen. John Thompson, Commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center at the Los Angeles Air Force Base, affirmed that the deal to transport National Security Space payloads marks “the dawn of a new decade in U.S. launch innovation.”
In an email to GeekWire, Blue Origin was upset with the decision, stating that they gave a “incredibly compelling offer”, but remained hopeful that their rocket, New Glenn, will be helpful to the nation’s national security:
“We are disappointed in the decision that New Glenn was not selected for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 Launch Services Procurement (LSP). We submitted an incredibly compelling offer for the national security community and the U.S. taxpayer…We remain confident New Glenn will play a critical role for the national security community in the future due to the increasing realization that space is a contested domain and a robust, responsive, and resilient launch capability is ever more vital to U.S security.”