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Lockheed-Boeing may get rocket deal in May

A Lockheed Martin Corp.-Boeing Co. joint venture may reach a deal to sell the U.S. government a bulk order of medium- and heavy-lift rockets next quarter, according to a company official.

A joint venture between the two contractors is "in the midst"of negotiating a five-year agreement with U.S. government officials for at least three dozen booster cores to launch military and spy satellites, according to Robert Cleave, president of commercial launch services at Lockheed Martin. A booster core is the main component of a rocket.

The Pentagon has already made the acquisition decision and a deal may come in "the second quarter of this year," possibly as early as May, Cleave said Tuesday after a panel discussion at a satellite conference in Washington. The parties are in the process of negotiating the terms and conditions, he said.

United Launch Alliance LLC, based in Centennial, Colorado, is the government's sole provider of Atlas and Delta rockets under an Air Force program called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. The firm is a joint venture of Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed and Chicago-based Boeing.

Smaller companies such as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX and headed by billionaire Elon Musk, are vying for a slice of the military market.

The Defense Department last year announced plans to end the Lockheed-Boeing launch monopoly due to rising launch costs. The Pentagon may open as many as 14 missions in the program to potential competitors such as SpaceX.

SpaceX in December won a seat on a separate Air Force contract potentially valued at $900 million to launch two satellites in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The work is designed in part to help it become certified to carry national-security payloads.

The company is making progress toward that goal, said Barry Matsumori, senior vice president of commercial sales and business development at SpaceX. He declined to say when it expects to receive military certification.

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