Near term, United Launch Alliance, or ULA, will remain the sole provider of heavy- and medium-lift commercial launch services to the U.S. military with its Delta 4 and Atlas 5 rockets.
But the wall is cracking. The Air Force is expected to award a non-ULA launch services contract this year for the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a NASA Earth-monitoring satellite that is being repurposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into a solar observatory. The Air Force issued a request for bids on May 11.
A second satellite, the Air Force’s Space Test Payload-2, also has been set aside for a new launch services provider.
In addition to 12 cargo-delivery flights for NASA, SpaceX has booked Falcon rocket flights for more than 28 other launches for a variety of companies, foreign governments and other customers.
”The one market that we have not yet been successful with is launching Defense Department satellites, although we’re hopeful that we’ll win one or two demonstration launches this year,” Musk said after Dragon’s return from orbit.
”Hopefully the successive flights of Falcon 9 in a row will give them the confidence they need to open up the defense contract for competition,” he said.
Robert Bigelow, the president of privately owned Bigelow Aerospace, said the Falcon 9 would create a paradigm shift within the global launch industry.
“The Falcon 9 has clearly arrived and proven itself as a reliable and affordable launch system for NASA, the Air Force and commercial payloads,” said Bigelow.