Lockheed-Boeing venture says rocket launch costs lower than claimed by rival

Tue May 20, 2014 1:40am EDT
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By Andrea Shalal

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - A joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N: Quote) and Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) on Monday said its rocket launch costs were far lower than claimed by its rival, privately-held Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, which is suing the U.S. government for shutting it out of the lucrative rocket launch business.

United Launch Alliance President Michael Gass told reporters at a space conference in Colorado that his company was providing rocket launches to the U.S. Air Force and other customers for an average cost of $225 million per launch, far less than the $460 million amount cited by SpaceX.

He said the price of each lighter-weight rocket launch was around $164 million in a 36-unit block buy that is being challenged by SpaceX. He also said ULA could provide additional lighter-weight launches for under $100 million, about the same price that SpaceX says its rocket launches will cost.

Overall, he said, the 36-launch contract had saved the U.S. government about $4 billion.

SpaceX last month sued the Air Force to protest the award of a multibillion-dollar, non-compete contract to ULA for 36 rocket launches, saying the deal blocked companies like SpaceX from competing for national security launches.

The Air Force says it will allow SpaceX to compete for a small number of rocket launch orders once its Falcon 9 rocket is certified to launch military satellites into space.

Gass said there were "a lot of rumors and innuendo" about the cost of his company's rocket launch services, but the $460 million cost estimate was inaccurate and actually included some funding being used to certify the new SpaceX rocket.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets already fly cargo ships to the International Space Station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 260 miles above Earth. The Falcon 9 also launches commercial communications satellites into high-altitude orbits.   Continued...

An Atlas 5 ULA (United Launch Alliance) rocket carrying a satellite for the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Gene Blevins