"The competitive award of these two ... contracts directly supports Space and Missile Systems Center's mission of delivering resilient and affordable space capabilities to our nation while maintaining assured access to space," Lt. Gen. John Thompson, of the Space and Missile System Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, said in a statement.
When SpaceX won its previous GPS III contract last year, Thompson's center said the company's lower price "was a major factor" in beating out ULA for the contract. Once again, with ULA's most recent contracts valuing each launch at $177 million, SpaceX's bids came in at nearly half the cost to the military as its competitor's.
ULA chief executive Tory Bruno confirmed his company and SpaceX were the "two offers" the Air Force received for the three available contracts — one for the GPS III satellites and two for the AFSPC satellites.
"If you're keeping score ... it's 5 [SpaceX] wins versus 6 ULA wins," Bruno wrote in tweets.
Before SpaceX began launching (and landing) its rockets, ULA had a monopoly on U.S. military satellite launches. With both of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets listed at prices far below comparable ULA rockets, the primarily government contractor is pushing to develop a new range of offerings to compete — but those are still several years away from test flights.
With Elon Musk's space company continuing to prove its reliability, the Air Force is making it clear that the rocket-launching business is entering a new era of competition.
"We're coming to a point [where the lower cost to launch is] enabling business plans to close in space that never were possible before," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said at a congressional subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
The successful launch of Falcon Heavy earlier this year will reportedly be followed by its first flight for the Air Force, known as Space Test Program 2. As Falcon Heavy has yet to complete the certification process to launch military equipment, the Air Force is using the launch to demonstrate the rocket's capabilities, while also delivering commercial satellites for companies such as Inmarsat and Viasat.