June 9, 2017 / 9:44 PM / 2 years ago

ULA says it was not allowed to compete with SpaceX for Air Force launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) and Boeing (BA.N) said on Friday it was not given an opportunity to bid against rival SpaceX for the upcoming launch of the U.S. Air Force’s miniature X-37B space plane.

Heather Wilson testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, as a part of the confirmation process in Washington, DC, U.S. on March 30, 2017. Scott M. Ash/Courtesy U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson disclosed during congressional testimony on Tuesday that the service was planning to fly its fifth X-37B mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

“ULA did not have the opportunity to bid for the Air Force’s fifth X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) mission which was recently awarded. ULA remains fully committed to continuing to support America’s national security missions with world-class launch services,” the company said in a statement.

Only United Launch Alliance and SpaceX are certified to launch U.S. military satellites.

The Air Force on Friday declined to confirm that it awarded the contract to Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, without soliciting other bids. It also declined to say when the contract was awarded or how much it is worth.

Four previous X-37B missions were launched by United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets.

SpaceX’s first publicly disclosed launch contract for the Air Force was awarded last year for a next-generation Global Positioning System satellite flight in 2018. A second GPS launch contract was awarded in March. The contracts are valued at $83 million and $96.5 million respectively.

United Launch Alliance did not bid for the first GPS launch contract but did compete and lost the second.

In May 2016, the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office disclosed it had hired SpaceX to launch a spy satellite aboard a Falcon 9. The mission, which was arranged through an intermediary, Ball Aerospace, took place last month.

SpaceX is owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Musk, who is also chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O).

Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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