This article originally appeared in the May 20, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
The U.S. Air Force has given United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin until Aug. 1 to submit their bids to become one of just two launch providers that will be entrusted to carry high-value national security payloads to orbit in the decade ahead.
After months of behind behind-the-scenes battles over the timing of the most consequential U.S. launch competition in the 20 years since the Air Force chose Atlas 5 and Delta 4 as its workhorse rockets, the battleground has shifted to theoretically neutral territory: the bid proposal.
But in the days since the May 3 release of the Air Force’s formal call for proposals for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement, new squabbles have arisen as bidders scrutinize the final solicitation for anything that might tilt the competition in a rival’s favor.
Biased or not, ULA, SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin have less than 90 days to deliver detailed bids that will convince Air Force rocket buyers they deserve to be one of the two companies that will split 60/40 as many as 34 missions the military and ...