Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX awarded $82.7 million USAF GPS III launch contract

Orbcomm OG2 Falcon 9 static test fire SpaceX photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: SpaceX

This past week, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) announced that Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) has been awarded the launch services contract for the GPS-III-2 satellite – scheduled for launch in May of 2018.

SpaceX’s winning bid of $82.7 million was slightly more than its unsolicited, rejected, pre-USAF certification, 2012 bid of $79.9 million for a similar launch. However, the bid was approximately 40 percent less than what the U.S. government had previously estimated.

The GPS-III-2 contract is the first competitively-sourced USAF launch services contract awarded in more than a decade. It’s also SpaceX’s first contract under the USAF’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.

The award to SpaceX came as no surprise as the previous sole source for EELV launches, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Boeing and Lockheed Martin joint venture, failed to bid on the GPS-III-2 launch contract, citing accounting and engine (RD-180) supply issues.

“This GPS III Launch Services contract award achieves a balance between mission success, meeting operational needs, lowering launch costs, and reintroducing competition for National Security Space missions,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of USAF Space and Missile Systems (SMC).

Also of interest is a report that there were actually two bids on the GPS-III-2 launch contract. It was previously believed that, absent a ULA bid, SpaceX was the sole bidder.

The identity of the second bidder has not been revealed. However, speculation has been that SpaceX also placed the second bid – possibly a proposal for a launch on a reused / refurbished Falcon first stage.

GPS III-2 is being manufactured by Lockheed Martin Space Systems and will be the second in a constellation of up to twelve enhanced GPS satellites.

According to the USAF, “GPS III is the next generation of GPS satellites that will introduce new capabilities to meet the higher demands of both military and civilian users. The satellite is expected to provide improved anti-jamming capabilities as well as improved accuracy for precision navigation and timing. It will incorporate the common L1C signal, which is compatible with the European Space Agency’s Galileo global navigation satellite system and compliment current services with the addition of new civil and military signals.”


Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.

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