The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has won a NASA contract to launch the LUCY mission – a “Discovery-class” mission to the Trojan asteroids. Using an Atlas V 401 launch vehicle, the mission will launch in October 2021. Launch-related costs are set to total US$148.3 million.
While ULA’s originally unidentified competitors in the bidding are likely to have been cheaper, ULA CEO Tory Bruno implied that it was his firm’s “World-Leading schedule certainty” which made it the preferred choice to launch such a time-dependent mission.
Update on 18 Feb 2019: SpaceX has formally protested to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) about the NASA launch award to ULA, saying it could have launched LUCY for a much lower price. ULA had previously made the point that NASA’s overriding requirement for the LUCY mission was for schedule certainty. As a result of the protest, NASA has had to issue a “Stop Work” order on the LUCY mission.