Air Force Awards GPS III Launch Services Contract to SpaceX

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif., April 27, 2016 (USAF PR) – The Air Force announced today the award of the first competitively sourced National Security Space (NSS) launch services contract in more than a decade. Space Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) was awarded a contract for Global Positioning System (GPS) III Launch Services. This is a firm-fixed price, standalone contract with a total value of $82,700,000. SpaceX will provide the Government with a total launch solution for the GPS-III satellite, which includes launch vehicle production, mission integration, and launch operations and spaceflight certification. The launch will be the second GPS III launch and is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. in May 2018.

“This GPS III Launch Services contract award achieves a balance between mission success, meeting operational needs, lowering launch costs, and reintroducing competition for National Security Space missions,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space and SMC commander.

GPS III is the next generation of GPS satellites that will introduce new capabilities to meet the higher demands of both military and civilian users. The satellite is expected to provide improved anti-jamming capabilities as well as improved accuracy for precision navigation and timing. It will incorporate the common L1C signal, which is compatible with the European Space Agency’s Galileo global navigation satellite system and compliment current services with the addition of new civil and military signals.

This is the first of nine competitive launch services planned in the FY 2016 President’s Budget Request under the current Phase 1A procurement strategy, which covers awards with FY 2015-2018 funding. The next solicitation for launch services will be for a second GPS III satellite. This award marks a milestone in the Air Force’s ongoing efforts to reintroduce a competitive procurement environment into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program as directed by Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

The Phase 1A procurement strategy reintroduces competition for national security space launch services. Under the Phase 1 strategy, United Launch Alliance (ULA) was the only certified launch provider. In 2013, ULA was awarded a sole-source contract for launch services as part of an Air Force “block buy” of 36 rocket cores that resulted in significant savings for the government through FY 2017.

In May 2015, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was certified for EELV launches resulting in two launch service providers that are capable to design, produce, qualify, and deliver a launch capability and provide the mission assurance support required to deliver national security space satellites to orbit. The certified baseline configuration of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Launch System to Falcon 9 Upgrade was recently updated for use in National Security Space (NSS) missions.

The Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center, located at the Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is the U.S. Air Force’s center of excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.

  • windbourne

    Significant savings on the block buy.
    I always laughed at that one.
    Funny thing is that ULA screams about SpaceX manipulating things, when in fact, it is obvious that the block buy was not only expensive, but was a design by ULA to lock out any competition from SpaceX and ultimately BO.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    28 launches for $11 BILLION, plus another BILLION a year for “launch readiness” – that’s $14 BILLION for 28 launches, including 4 Delta Heavy and 24 single stick launches. Bruno has said that the average cost of single sick Atlas/Delta is $253 million and that the cost of a Heavy is between $400 million and $600 million.
    Taking him at his word:
    24 single stick launches times $253,000,000 = $6.072 Billion
    So the four Delta Heavy must cost: $14 billion minus $6.072 billion = $7.928 billion, which equates to $1.982 billion per Heavy (a little bit above the $600 million maximum that he asserts).
    Taking him on his OTHER word:
    4 times (a maximum of) $600 million per heavy = $2.4 billion,
    So, the average of single stick launch is $11.6 billion divided by 24,
    which is $483 million per single stick launch (a little higher than an average of $253 million).

    The ONLY possible conclusions to make is that either, Bruno is really bad at simple maths, or, that he is a bare faced liar.

    Another simpler calculation is to say $14 billion divided by 28, which is an average of $500 million per launch. It’s lucky that the air force managed to strike this bulk buy deal though, or else those 28 launches would have cost $4 billion more, to a total of $18 billion if purchased one at a time, which would have been $750 million per launch.

    By comparison, if we say that F9 is capable of half the launches and FH is required for the others, and we say that FH will be twice the price of F9, i.e. 2 x $82.7 million = $165.4 million.

    That would be 14 x $82.7 million = $1.1578 billion, plus 14 x $165.4 million = $2.3156 billion to a total of $3.4734 billion, which is an average launch price of $124 million, which compares nicely to ULA’s average launch price of $500 million. The only down side is that it’s doubtful that a SpaceX bulk buy would yield a $4 billion saving.

  • TomDPerkins

    “or, that he is a bare faced liar.”


  • Zed_WEASEL

    @Michael Vaicaitis, just to be fair to ULA. The cost you stated is just for the rocket cores plus ELC money added without spacecraft processing and stack integration along with the odious USAF mission assurance requirements (mostly paperwork).

    Also it is unlikely that the Falcon 9 will as cheap in future missions with vertical payload integration requirement. AFAIK that pushes up the total per launch cost for the F9 to about $130M. This GPS 3 payload does not required vertical integration.