SpaceX has been bidding against itself for NASA’s science missions for a while – Ars Technica

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Enlarge / An Atlas V rocket launches the GOES-T ngo for NASA’s Launch Services Program connected March 1, 2022.


On Friday NASA closed the bidding process to prime a motorboat conveyance for an upcoming Earth subject ngo to measurement changes successful oversea level, Sentinel-6B. The ngo is expected to motorboat into debased Earth orbit astir 4 years from now, and the abstraction bureau is finalizing its prime of a rocket.

Such bidding processes are secretive to support the competitory interests of the bidders successful presumption of prices and capabilities. However, realistically, determination is nary enigma astir who volition triumph the Sentinel-6B contract. Like the spacecraft’s twin, Sentinel-6A, we tin expect this ngo to motorboat connected a Falcon 9 rocket sometime successful 2026.

This is because, astatine present, determination are nary different bidders for NASA’s medium and ample subject missions beyond SpaceX and its fleet of Falcon rockets.

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Bid is “withdrawn”

In effect to questions astir this deficiency of contention for its subject missions, including Sentinel-6B, NASA declined to supply answers to questions from Ars. Rather, spokesperson Leejay Lockhart issued the pursuing statement, “NASA is not capable to stock the fig of bids oregon waiver petition accusation arsenic they are considered contention sensitive.”

However, it seems apt that astatine slightest the past 3 awards nether NASA’s Launch Services II declaration person each seen SpaceX bidding against itself. United Launch Alliance main enforcement Tory Bruno confirmed this aft NASA’s announcement successful September 2021 that the GOES-U outer would motorboat connected a Falcon Heavy rocket. Bruno said his institution had “withdrawn” its bid aft each of its Atlas V rockets were sold out.

A root confirmed that United Launch Alliance besides did not bid connected the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope launch, which NASA announced successful July 2022 it had awarded to SpaceX, nor the Sentinel-6B contract, for which bidding closed connected September 30.

This deficiency of contention harkens backmost to the play from 2005 to 2015, erstwhile NASA was mostly reliant connected United Launch Alliance, and its Delta and Atlas rockets, for getting its subject missions into space. SpaceX broke this monopoly erstwhile it launched the Jason-3 ngo for NASA and NOAA successful January 2016. Partly successful effect to this competition, and partially owed to a tendency to extremity its reliance connected Russian rocket engines, United Launch Alliance is ending accumulation of some its Atlas and Delta rockets successful favour of what it intends to beryllium a much cost-competitive, American-made rocket, Vulcan.