For a few months, a rumor has circulated around the launch pads. SpaceX would be the only company to apply for the NASA tender. A few days ago, Tory Bruno, director of ULA (United Launch Alliance), gave a little more information on the subject, assuring that his company had “withdrawn” its proposals.
If the US space agency’s tender is done blindly (no one knows how many companies respond to them), many experts believe that SpaceX “fights its own prices. “A situation that would not please NASA at all, depending on the correct functioning of a single actor rockets.
SpaceX in a monopoly position
On the other hand, this lack of competition is nothing new. Between 2005 and 2015, NASA always chose Atlas rockets from ULA due to lack of serious competition. Since 2016, Elon Musk’s company has won several contracts. SpaceX then made a name for itself in the space industry to the point where it completely eclipsed its predecessors.
On October 1, the company won a new tender for the Sentinel-6B mission. This project will put a satellite into orbit to allow NASA and NAOO (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to better study the ocean floor.
A mission that will therefore leave Earth aboard a Falcon 9 from SpaceX in 2026. A few months ago, the twin program Sentiel-6A was also won by SpaceX. This dominance over the results of tenders shows that today Elon Musk’s company is the only one capable of responding to NASA’s request.
Who are SpaceX’s opponents?
It also exploits this monopoly situation to multiply contracts with the US agency. The new golden age of space is dominated by Elon Musk’s rockets, and he knows it. Behind him, other companies are trying to catch up with the wagons.
ULA, a former NASA launch pad, has been grounded since the start of the war in Ukraine. The engines for its Atlas V rockets are produced by Russians. While it waits to develop Vulcain, the brand’s next launch vehicle, it can only watch the Falcon 9 take off.
Another manufacturer recognized by NASA as “sufficiently qualified” to carry out scientific missions, Northrop Grumann, is not in a good position. The group has three rockets approved by NASA, but only Antares is able to compete with Falcon 9.
The rocket, which was launched after the shutdown of the space shuttle in 2011, has not flown for several months for the same geopolitical reasons as the Atlas V. Both rockets are actually equipped with Russian engines (RD-180 for Atlas V and RD-181 for Antares) . Northrop Grumann’s other models, the Pegasus XL and Minotaur-C launchers, have not flown since 2019. In addition, they can only carry small payloads.
Elon Musk vs Jeff Bezos: the return of the war of the billionaires?
Finally, only Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket remains. Approved by NASA for scientific missions, Jeff Bezos’ device is a serious contender on paper. But in reality the company never flew its rocket. A first test mission was to take place before the end of the year. If the flight goes well, SpaceX’s monopoly could be challenged in the coming months.