WASHINGTON — United Launch Alliance won a contract from NASA to launch the latest in a series of communication satellites for the agency in 2017.
NASA awarded ULA a contract Oct. 30 to launch the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M (TDRS-M) satellite on an Atlas 5 in October 2017 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA said the total contract value, covering launch, spacecraft processing, and other support, is $132.4 million.
TDRS-M is the third and final spacecraft in a series built by Boeing for NASA. The spacecraft provide S-, Ka- and Ku-band communications services for the International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope, and other spacecraft in Earth orbit. The previous TDRS satellite, named TDRS-L at launch and later renamed TDRS-12, launched on an Atlas 5 in January 2014.
NASA has used Atlas vehicles to launch TDRS satellites for 15 years. Three second-generation TDRS satellites launched on Atlas 2A rockets operated by Lockheed Martin from 2002 to 2002. An Atlas 5 launched the TDRS-K satellite in January 2013.
The new contract may offer some cost savings to NASA over previous TDRS and other Atlas launches. The TDRS-K and -L spacecraft were included in a 2009 NASA award to ULA for four Atlas 5 launches, with a total contract value of $600 million. Three of the launches, including the two TDRS missions, used the 401 version of the Atlas 5, while one, the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, used a more powerful, and more expensive, 421 version.
The contract is also less expensive than one NASA awarded ULA in December 2013 for the March 2016 launch of the InSight Mars lander spacecraft. That mission, also using an Atlas 5 401 but from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, has a contract value of approximately $160 million.
The NASA announcement of the launch contract did not state if the contract was open to competition from other launch providers, most notably SpaceX. Company spokesman John Taylor did not respond to a request for comment Nov. 2 about whether SpaceX bid on the contract, or was eligible to do so.