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SpaceX Wins Air Force GPS III Satellite Launch Contract

SpaceX on Tuesday beat out United Launch Alliance for a $96.5 million contract with the U.S. Air Force to launch the GPS III satellite into orbit, making it the second contract the company has won with the service for space flights.

The California-based company, headed by Elon Musk, is expected to complete work on the GPS III mission by April 2019, according to the contract announcement. The work will include launch vehicle production, mission integration, launch operations, and spaceflight worthiness testing at Hawthorne, California, McGregor, Texas, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The Air Force awarded SpaceX its first substantial military contract last year -- a deal valued at $83 million to launch a GPS satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket in May 2018. SpaceX was the sole bidder as ULA, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security, did not compete for the 2018 launch. ULA said it did not expect to have "an Atlas 5 rocket available for the mission" in time, among other financial concerns, according to Space News.

The latest win for SpaceX marks the first time the company competed against ULA -- which has been launching nearly all national security payload satellites for the last decade --  for the mission.

The recent contract announcement is one of nine launch contracts -- six of which are GPS III satellites, Space News said -- the Defense Department plans to award through fiscal 2017, according to the Air Force.

SpaceX temporarily suspended its flights after a Sept. 1 accident, which significantly damaged a launch pad at Cape Canaveral. The unexpected explosion destroyed the company’s Falcon 9 rocket along with an Amos-6 commercial satellite.

An investigation board -- headed by officials at the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Air Force, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and several industry experts -- found that the massive fireball occurred because "one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels, or COPVs, inside the second stage liquid oxygen tank failed," according to a January announcement.

The company resumed flights on Jan. 14.

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