Competition and the Future of the EELV Program

December 12, 2011

This year has marked a period of considerable transition for the US launch industry. Although the end of the Space Shuttle program, and the beginning of its intended replacement, the Space Launch System (SLS), has garnered the lion's share of attention, it is far from the only change taking place. Another transition, quietly underway for much of the past year, has recently exploded in volume and intensity. It involves the next round of procurement for the Department of Defense's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, and has been the subject of a fiercely contested battle between stakeholders representing two very different approaches to providing launch services. Years in the making, this clash has come to a head this fall. It is the first of two decisions—the second being commercial crew—that will have a major impact on the sustainability of publically funded spaceflight. 

For the last five years, United Launch Alliance (ULA), the joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has been the sole source provider of launch services to Department of Defense (DoD) and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) for medium and heavy lift. Despite steadily rising launch costs, the company has maintained its position based on the performance and reputation of its two vehicles, Atlas V and Delta IV, and the lack of viable competition. That position is now under threat, principally from SpaceX and its own EELV-class vehicle, the Falcon 9. With two successful flights under its belt, and a third high-stakes flight now scheduled for February, the Falcon 9 offers a compelling alternative to the ULA products both in terms of pricing and its 100% US production. 

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