SpaceX’s winning bid to launch the second GPS III satellite is about 40 percent cheaper than the government estimate for previous missions, Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, told reporters Thursday. The contract award, which was announced Wednesday, will be the first of nine competitively awarded contracts for national security space missions as part of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Phase 1A acquisition strategy, Greaves said. Introducing competition into space launch allows the Air Force to balance mission success and operational needs, while lowering launch costs and promoting innovation, he added. SpaceX is one of only two companies certified for national security space launches, though they are still waiting for “mission assurance return to flight” status for USAF launches, after the explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket in June 2015. Greaves said he has approved the status for SpaceX, but Congress must still sign off on the decision.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.