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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes flight. Photo: SpaceX

The Space Force's announcement last week that United Launch Alliance and SpaceX will launch expensive spy satellites and other military payloads brings a long and often fierce battle for government funds to an end — at least for now.

Why it matters: This type of government money — particularly in light of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic — is key for space companies that often work on thin margins.

The state of play: ULA was awarded the bulk of the funds — $337 million — for two missions due to launch in 2022, with SpaceX winning $316 million for one mission launching that year.

  • Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin both submitted bids for this competition — called the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement — but neither company received funds this time around.
  • SpaceX and ULA are already providing national security launches for the government, while Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin are building new, yet-to-be-flown rockets, called OmegA and New Glenn respectively, that would be used for these launches.

The backdrop: Space companies fought hard for these contracts, working to gain the upper hand over their competitors.

  • Blue Origin filed a protest in 2019, saying the government's methods for picking winners were flawed and favored ULA and SpaceX.
  • SpaceX, which didn't receive money as part of an award in 2018, argued that put the company at a disadvantage for winning a Phase 2 contract.

What's next: "We remain confident New Glenn will play a critical role for the national security community in the future due to the increasing realization that space is a contested domain and a robust, responsive, and resilient launch capability is ever more vital to U.S. security," Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said in a statement.

  • All four companies will also have a chance to compete under Phase 3 of the competition.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Nov 17, 2020 - Science

Crewed SpaceX capsule docks to International Space Station

Two crewmembers using the tablets inside the Crew Dragon as it is docked to the ISS. Photo: NASA TV

The International Space Station has four new crewmembers delivered to the orbiting outpost care of SpaceX.

Why it matters: This mission marks the first fully operational flight of the Crew Dragon and ushers in a new era of regular, human missions to orbit operated by SpaceX for NASA.

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right) Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, US Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.

Fed: Rate hikes are near

The Federal Reserve's headquarters building. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve is on track to raise its main target interest rate in mid-March, as Chair Jerome Powell pledged to be "humble and nimble" in adapting policy to a fast-changing economy.

Why it matters: Fed leaders are looking to choke off inflation by raising interest rates in the near future, but keeping its options open for how fast and far the effort will go.