SpaceX Beats Out Boeing, Lockheed on Air Force Contract Getty Images

SpaceX Beats Out Boeing, Lockheed on Air Force Contract

Elon Musk's company will launch an Air Force GPS satellite on a cheaper Falcon 9 rocket sometime in 2019.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX won its second-ever launch contract from the U.S. military by underbidding an alliance of defense industry giants.

Cost was a determining factor in awarding the $96.5 million contract to Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Claire Leon, the Air Force’s launch enterprise director, said on a conference call Wednesday. The company will launch an Air Force GPS satellite on an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket sometime in 2019.

SpaceX has added competition to military launches for United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket won U.S. Air Force certification for national security space missions in May 2015, breaking a lock long held by ULA. Contracts for military launches include satellites that let troops communicate on battlefields and are estimated to be valued at about $70 billion through 2030, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

With NASA, SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract to resupply the International Space Station and a second pact valued at as much as $2.6 billion to transport crews to the orbiting lab. The closely held company expects to launch a commercial satellite early Thursday and to launch its first “flight proven” rocket--one that has been flown and recovered on land or at sea --later this month.

“SpaceX is proud to have been selected to support this important National Security Space Mission,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, said in a statement. “We appreciate the confidence that the U.S. Air Force has placed in our company and we look forward to working together towards the successful launch of another GPS-III mission.”

SpaceX may bid on 13 additional launches the Air Force is preparing. The next should be awarded this summer, Leon said.

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