Special deal: buy a SpaceX flight and get a satellite (cost: $300m) for free!
That appears to be the deal that SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk is offering the US government, with the newfound competition in the national security payload launch market. Since SpaceX received approval by the US Air Force in 2015 to utilize its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX has received contracts to launch GPS 3 satellites into orbit. What the government has been paying SpaceX may be $300 million less than what US taxpayers will be paying the Colorado-based United Launch Alliance (ULA), jointly owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to do a similar launch in 2020.
$300M cost diff between SpaceX and Boeing/Lockheed exceeds avg value of satellite, so flying with SpaceX means satellite is basically free https://t.co/CaOulCf7ot
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 16, 2017
As first reported by Ars Technica, greater transparency as to how much the government pays for its launches has brought this brought the issue of cost competition into focus. As estimated by the Department of Defense’s 2018 budget, the cost for using ULA comes out to $422 million for a single launch. A significant portion of the cost is related to the government paying ULA for its continued launch readiness; something it does not pay SpaceX, which accepts its contracts on an all-inclusive basis.
This comes on the heels of a 2014 report by the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO), where they criticized the lack of transparency and competition in governmental space launch contracts. The government may now be more welcoming to new entrants, such as SpaceX, that can offer drastically reduced pricing.
“The Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agreed to a coordinated strategy for certification of New Entrants to launch payloads in…
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