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United Launch Alliance beats SpaceX to launch US Air force rockets

01 July 2017

A nuclear blast detection satellite and an assortment of others will be placed directly in the geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the earth in 2019 by the most-powerful version of United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket, the United States Air Force had decided.

ULA, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, beat Elon Musk's SpaceX for the launch.

The Space Test Program 3 (STP 3) mission was won by the Atlas 5, fitted with its maximum five side-mounted solid rocket boosters for the greatest thrust. The firm-fixed price for the standalone contract is valued at $191,141,581.

''The competitive award of the STP-3 launch services contract to United Launch Alliance directly supports SMC's mission of delivering resilient and affordable space capabilities to our nation,'' said lieutenant general John F Thompson, Air Force program executive officer for space and the Space and Missile Systems Center commander at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Spaceflight Now reported.

In the STP 3 the third National Security Space launch ULA's stable of rockets competed against SpaceX's Falcon 9. Space X had been awarded two GPS launches earlier.

The contract covers launch services for multiple satellites aboard an Atlas 5 rocket in June 2019. The contract value is just over $191 million, the Air Force said.

A SpaceX spokesman told Reuters it did not expect to win this bidding competition as the mission required a heavy-lift launcher and its Falcon Heavy booster had not yet flown.

''The mission performance required that we bid Falcon Heavy,'' SpaceX spokesman John Taylor wrote in a email.

''We did submit a bid, but with the knowledge that our first Falcon Heavy flight might occur after the time of the award.  Given we have not flown Falcon Heavy, we did not anticipate winning this mission,'' he said.

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