Last week we had some big news for space nerds like me. The Pentagon made their decision to award contracts to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to serve as the primary two launch service providers for national security missions. Both companies beat out competitors such as Northrop Grumman and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin.
ULA had a monopoly on national security missions for decades prior to the mid-2010s and with this new contract, they will be splitting the new contract. The contract was split 60/40, with ULA receiving 60% of the contract and SpaceX receiving 40%. Both Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman received funds from an earlier round that went towards the development of the New Glenn and Omega rockets respectfully.
Well, what does that mean? This is a big step forward because it gives SpaceX the funds to be able to build a vertical integration facility at Launch Complex-39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and means that we will be seeing more Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches in the future. It also means that the ULA Vulcan rocket will be launching national security payloads soon as well.
The biggest takeaway is that we now have more competition in the realm of space launch providers and in my opinion the more the better. Competition breeds innovation and drives prices down.
Many of the contractors that provide space launch technology to NASA and the US Space Force have been around for years and are firmly entrenched in the political landscape of the United States. Lockheed Martin and Boeing, who own ULA, along with Northrop Grumman have been providing services to NASA for decades. In the last two decades have seen several companies come to challenge the legacy providers. SpaceX is the most prevalent of these competitors, but they also include Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, and more. There has never been a better time to be a fan of space exploration.