The Defense Department plans to open more than a dozen rocket launches to competition, moving to end a monopoly held by a Lockheed Martin Corp.-Boeing Co. joint venture.
The Air Force is authorized to buy as many as 14 booster cores over the next five years from potential competitors such as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX and headed by billionaire Elon Musk, and Orbital Sciences Corp., Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, wrote in a Nov. 27 memo obtained by Bloomberg News. A booster core is the main component of a rocket.
The service may also buy as many as 36 cores from the Lockheed-Boeing venture over the same period, with an option to purchase the additional 14 from it if competitors aren’t ready, Kendall wrote. The venture, United Launch Alliance LLC, is the sole supplier of medium- and heavy-lift rockets for military and spy satellites in a program estimated to cost $70 billion through 2030.
“I direct the Air Force to aggressively introduce a competitive procurement environment,” Kendall wrote.
The competitive contracts may be awarded as early as fiscal 2015 for missions that can be flown as early as fiscal 2017, Kendall wrote. The missions could still go to the alliance, though, “if competition is not viable at time of need,” he wrote.
The Pentagon is trying to control rising launch costs. It estimates the program, known as Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, will cost $69.6 billion for 150 launches through fiscal 2030. The government’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The average launch cost, including research and development, has more than doubled to $464 million from a previous figure of $230 million.
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