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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.

3 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

3 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."