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
Sep 23, 2020 - Science

Private companies are aiming for the International Space Station

The International Space Station. Photo: NASA

The International Space Station is open for business and private companies are making expensive plans to capitalize on it.

Why it matters: This commercialization effort by NASA is part of the agency's broader goals to welcome a broad swath of private enterprises to space to boost an economy in low-Earth orbit that will make NASA a buyer among many users instead of a sole provider.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Sep 23, 2020 - Science

Planetary science in the private space age

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The private spaceflight industry isn't just interested in being the manufacturing and infrastructure workhorse in space — some want in on exploration.

Why it matters: Studying planets from close range has long been the realm of governments able to fund and fly missions to distant locations like the Moon, Mars and Venus. Now, private companies are shooting for those destinations and they're prioritizing science at the same time.

Trump signs bill to prevent government shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and President Trump arrives at the U.S. Capitol in March. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Trump signed a bill to extend current levels of government funding into early December, White House spokesperson Judd Deere confirmed early Thursday.

Driving the news: The Senate on Tuesday passed the legislation to fund the federal government through Dec. 11, by a vote of 84-10. The move averts a government shutdown before the Nov. 3 election, though funding did expire briefly before the bill was signed.

Editor's note: This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.