May 14, 2015 / 12:41 AM / in 2 years

U.S. Air Force kicks off first satellite launch tender in over decade

File photo of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop is seen in this handout photo after the Mobile Service Tower was finished rolling back early on December 4, 2014, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37, Florida.Bill Ingalls/NASA/Handout via Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday kicked off its first major satellite launch competition in over a decade, issuing a draft request for proposals for the launch of a next-generation Global Positioning System satellite.

Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center said the contract to be awarded after the competition would include launch vehicle production, mission integration and launch operations.

The contract will likely be worth over $100 million but the exact value will not be known until a contract is awarded.

United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, has been the sole launcher of U.S. military and spy satellites for years, but the Air Force expects to certify privately held Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to compete for some launches in June.

A NASA media escort takes a photo of the unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon capsule as it sits on launch pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2015.Scott Audette

SpaceX could respond to the draft request for proposals, and could submit a bid once a final request is issued since it is considered "qualified to compete." The company would, however, need to be certified before any actual award.

SpaceX and United Launch Alliance could not immediately be reached for comment.

The unmanned SpaceX Crew Dragon sits on launch pad 40 before a Pad Abort Test at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida May 5, 2015.Scott Audette

The Air Force said the draft request for proposals, which was published on a federal website late Wednesday, was for the first of nine space launch missions that the Air Force plans to open to competition in the next phase of its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. Responses are due May 26.

"This is our first competition for EELV launch services in over a decade," said Lieutenant General Sam Greaves, director of Space and Missile Systems Center and the Air Force's program executive officer for space. "Our intent is to reintroduce competition while maintaining our focus on mission success in support of national security space launches."

It was not immediately clear when the Air Force would issue a final request for proposals, or when it planned to award a contract.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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