SpaceX to Launch DSCOVR, Space Test Program-2 for Air Force

SpaceX to Launch DSCOVR, Space Test Program-2 for Air Force

SpaceX announced yesterday that it has won two launch contracts from the Air Force, finally breaking into the national security space launch market for the first time.  The company has been assiduously trying to compete in that market, long dominated by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) with its Atlas V and Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs).

The company announced yesterday that it was awarded two EELV-class contracts to launch NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and the Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) spacecraft in 2014 and 2015 respectively.  DSCOVR will use a Falcon 9 while STP-2 needs a Falcon Heavy, which is still in development.  Both will launch from Cape Canaveral.

The award is a big success for SpaceX.   The company has been lobbying to get the Air Force to reconsider its plan to purchase a block buy of 40 EELV core vehicles for use over the next five years.  The Air Force argued that the block buy would provide stability to the industrial base that builds and launches those rockets.  SpaceX countered that they would be locked out of the market if the Air Force proceeded and they could provide launches at much lower cost than ULA.  

SpaceX’s arguments won support from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which issued a report in October 2011 recommending that the Air Force reconsider the plan and make room for “new entrants” like SpaceX.   At about the same time, the Senate Appropriations Committee said the Air Force’s goal should be significantly reducing launch costs more than stabilizing production capacity.  This summer, GAO gave the Air Force mixed grades on how well it was responding to the 2011 report and Senate appropriators restated their strong support for allowing new entrants to compete.  The Air Force apparently got the message.

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