On Thursday, June 8, SpaceX bagged the coveted military contract for Air Force's X-37B space plane's launch, which is known as the OTV or Orbital Test Vehicle. Prior to SpaceX, United Launch Alliance monopolized all the launch contracts the U.S. Air Force gave out.
On Friday, June 9, ULA — a joint endeavor of Boeing and Lockheed Martin — stated that the organization was not given a chance to bid against rival SpaceX for the X-37B's launch contract.
Heather Wilson, the Secretary of U.S. Air Force, earlier confirmed that the fifth launch of the unmanned X-37B space plane was scheduled for August.
ULA Not Given Chance To Bid For X-37B Launch Contract?
On Tuesday, June 6, Wilson confirmed during a congressional testimony that the U.S. Air Force was indeed planning to lift off the X-37B space plane using SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. However, ULA states that it was not given fair means to bid for the launch contract, which has gone to Elon Musk's space exploration company.
ULA's President Tory Bruno was quizzed on Twitter whether the company bid for the X-37B launch, to which he responded that they were not given the opportunity.
No. We were not given the opportunity to bid. https://t.co/2envWyGnXe
— Tory Bruno (@torybruno) June 9, 2017
The company confirmed Bruno's assertions in an emailed statement to publication SpaceNews.
"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 revealed to SpaceNews.
Incidentally, out of all the private space companies in America, only SpaceX and ULA have certification to launch a U.S. military space satellite. ULA conducted the previous four X-37B launches atop its Atlas 5 rockets.
U.S. Air Force Playing Unfair?
The U.S. Air Force declined to comment or confirm ULA's assertions that the X-37B launch contract was exclusively handed over to SpaceX or Space Exploration Technologies without inviting other companies — in this case ULA — to bid for the same.
This isn't the first time the U.S. Air Force is accused of playing unfair while handing out contracts. The U.S. Air Force was earlier sued by SpaceX in 2014 on the same grounds. At the time, SpaceX claimed that the Air Force was not giving the company a fair chance to get the military launch contracts.
Once the lawsuit was settled, SpaceX got its first launch contract from the Air Force in 2015 and signed a dual contract worth $83 million and $96.5 million to lift off two Global Positioning System satellite flights in 2018. Both the U.S. Air Force and SpaceX are yet to reveal the monetary value of the current deal.