SpaceX launched its first commercial satellite, the SES-8, into geostationary orbit on December 3rd, 2013, so entering the highly competitive commercial launch market.
SpaceX has managed to severely undercut the launch costs of major competitors that use the Ariane and Proton vehicles, and in so doing, it has secured at least a further 10 confirmed bookings to place commercial satellites into geostationary orbits.
As of December 2013, SpaceX is under contract to conduct a further 50 launches, of which more than two-thirds are for commercial clients. During 2014, SpaceX won nine launch contracts out of 20 that were open to commercial launch providers, which is significant given the fact that the company only launched its first satellite late in 2013. However, the fact that no launches were booked for the Russian Proton and Zenit vehicles in 2014 may have something to do with SpaceX’s success.
Nonetheless, SpaceX has declared that if the development of fully re-usable rocket technology turns out to be viable, the company would be able to reduce launch costs with the Falcon 9 launch vehicle to the $5-, to $7 million range.
As a result, United Launch Alliance, which is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, (and which requires huge government subsidies to stay afloat), has announced that unless they receive a substantial number NASA launch contracts, the competition from SpaceX is almost certain to bankrupt the venture.
Unfortunately for United Launch Alliance though, the American Government has certified SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle for national security launches in May of 2015, and given the concerted efforts SpaceX is making to secure military EELV-class payloads, ULA is unlikely to be able to compete with the significantly lower launch costs currently being offered by SpaceX.