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SpaceX wins its first satellite launch for the US Air Force

Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images

SpaceX has been awarded an $87.2 million contract from the US Air Force to launch a military GPS satellite in May 2018, Space News reports. It will be the first national security launch SpaceX performs for the Air Force, since the company was authorized to launch military satellites in May 2015.

It was practically guaranteed that SpaceX would win

It was practically guaranteed that SpaceX would win the contract because the company was bidding unopposed. The only other spaceflight company authorized to launch military satellites is the United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. In November, ULA said it had declined to bid for the GPS-3 satellite contract, claiming it would not have a rocket ready by the time the launch needed to happen. A former ULA vice president also hinted that the company didn't want to compete in a "cost shootout" with SpaceX.

ULA has launched practically every satellite for the military since the venture was first formed in 2006. But with SpaceX authorized to launch military payloads now, ULA will likely be bidding for many more Air Force launch contracts. The GPS-3 satellite is just the first of nine contracts the Air Force will put up for bid, according to Space News, meaning SpaceX and ULA will be directly competing for business from the military. ULA says it will compete for the next launch contract.

The problem for ULA is that SpaceX offers a much cheaper alternative for the Defense Department. SpaceX's rockets start at $60 million, while the low-end cost of launching ULA's primary rocket, the Atlas V, is $164 million, according to the company. If low prices are a priority for the Air Force, SpaceX could be picking up many more military launch contracts in the future.

Watch the historic landing of a SpaceX rocket