A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, carrying the Arabsat 6A communications satellite, lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 11, 2019.

Joe Skipper | Reuters

The U.S. Air Force on Friday awarded rocket builders United Launch Alliance and SpaceX with contracts worth billions to launch national security missions for five years starting in 2022. 

The awards represent the second phase of the military’s National Security Space Launch program, which is organized by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, California. Four companies — SpaceX, ULA, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin — bid for the contracts, with the military set to spend about $1 billion per year.

The NSSL awards represent nearly three dozen launch contracts, scheduled between 2022 and 2026. ULA won 60% of the launches with SpaceX winning the remaining 40%.

Elon Musk’s company and ULA — a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin — are the reigning launch providers for national security missions, having launched dozens of payloads for the military over the last decade. National security missions are the most lucrative in the rocket business, with many worth well over $100 million per launch. The U.S. military awarded ULA and SpaceX with over $12 billion worth of launch contracts between 2012 and 2019.

Two years ago the Air Force awarded ULA, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin with development contract awards worth $967 million, $792 million and $500 million, respectively. The process has been highly competitive, with SpaceX suing the Air Force after not winning a development award and Blue Origin protesting the criteria the Pentagon used for the launch contracts.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets

The landed Falcon 9 rocket booster from SpaceX’s Demo-2 crewed mission returns to Port Canaveral in Florida.


United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket

Artist rendering of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan system.

United Launch Alliance

Northrop Grumman’s OmegA rocket

A rendering of Orbital ATK’s OmegA rocket.

Orbital ATK

Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket

Artist rendering of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket.

Blue Origin

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