Big win for Elon Musk: SpaceX’s only rival out of US military satellite bid

By Julie Johnsson and Tony Capaccio

(Bloomberg) — Elon Musk’s SpaceX may win its first U.S. military satellite launch after the only other certified bidder, a Boeing Co.-Lockheed Martin Corp. joint venture, decided not to compete.

SpaceX submitted a proposal for the 2018 mission by Monday’s deadline, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public. United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed operator, told the Air Force in a letter that the terms of the contest kept it from making a qualifying bid.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk reveals the Tesla Energy Powerwall Home Battery during an event in Hawthorne, California April 30, 2015. Tesla Motors Inc unveiled Tesla Energy - a suite of batteries for homes, businesses and utilities - a highly-anticipated plan to expand its business beyond electric vehicles. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

“We look forward to working with the Air Force to address the obstacles to ULA’s participation in future launch competitions to enable a full and fair competition,” spokeswoman Jessica Rye said in an e-mailed statement.

The showdown over rights to launch a global positioning satellite was to have been the first between the two companies since Space Exploration Technologies Corp. won U.S. Air Force certification for national-security missions in May. United Launch Alliance had been the sole supplier of sensitive satellite launches, a market estimated to be worth at about $70 billion through 2030 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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United Launch officials had said they might not bid on the competition unless the Defense Department waived restrictions limiting imports of Russian-made rocket engines used to power its launch vehicles for the missions.

The Pentagon has sought to have two providers for critical launches to drive down costs and provide a crucial backup in case one vehicle is grounded. Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket has been idled since one exploded shortly after takeoff in June.

SpaceX plans to charge less than $100 million for military missions, Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in March. The Boeing- Lockheed company charges $160 million or more for the comparably sized Atlas V rocket, according to Teal Group estimates.

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