Elon Musk’s SpaceX Advances Goal of Becoming Trusted, Long-Term Military Launch Provider

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Advances Goal of Becoming Trusted, Long-Term Military Launch Provider

Pentagon chooses rocket company to share multiyear award with incumbent contractor

A test version of SpaceX’s Starship lifts off in Boca Chica, Texas, on Tuesday. The Air Force said the company is set to split an estimated nearly three dozen satellite launches with the United Launch Alliance.PHOTO: SPACEX/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

By Andy PasztorAug. 9, 2020 6:09 pm ET

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX has vaulted into an elite tier of military suppliers, winning a multibillion-dollar contract that makes it one of the Pentagon’s two primary satellite-launch providers through most of the decade.

In a significant boost to Mr. Musk’s closely held Southern California company, the Air Force on Friday said SpaceX will split an estimated nearly three dozen launches through 2027 with United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. Until a few years ago, ULA had a virtual monopoly on such business, which focuses on the highest-priority military and intelligence payloads.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the formal name of Mr. Musk’s company, is slated to conduct 40% of the missions, achieving a long-cherished goal of breaking into the ranks of the Pentagon’s most trusted corporate partners. The Boeing-Lockheed joint venture is slated to carry out the rest of the launches. Initial awards for each company exceeded $300 million, though industry estimates of the eventual combined contract value range from more than $4 billion to about $6 billion.

Blue Origin Federation LLC, run by Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, made a big push to snare some of the launches, stressing the strength of its technology and financial commitment to improve it further. The fourth bidder was Northrop Grumman Corp.

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Industry officials said the announcement appears to give SpaceX a long-term advantage over Blue Origin to become the dominant new entrant in the lucrative market for launching big U.S. national-security payloads over coming decades. Both companies consider government launches strategically important for their future prospects, and the military plans to reopen competition for later missions.

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