That would finally seem to be the case, 17 months and one day after the joint venture was first announced. The FTC announced today that it would “intervene” in the formation of the ULA, meaning it has created a consent decree that will allow the ULA to come into being under some conditions. Those requirements include:
- The ULA must cooperate “on equivalent terms” with all government satellite manufacturers (so that Boeing- and Lockeed-built satellites don’t get an unfair advantage);
- Boeing and Lockheed must “provide equal consideration and support to all launch services providers” seeking government “delivery-in-orbit” contracts; and
- The ULA must safeguard all “competitively sensitive information” provided by other satellite and launch vehicle manufacturers.
The second condition is interesting: it’s not clear to me what sort of “equal consideration and support” Boeing and Lockheed could give to other launch providers. Can anyone better explain that one?
Although the FTC did draft and approve unanimously the consent order, it’s clear from the press release that regulators aren’t too fond of the ULA. “The consolidation of the nationís only two suppliers of government MTH [medium-to-heavy] launch services is likely to cause significant anticompetitive harm,” the FTC notes in its press release. However, the FTC was won over by Defense Department arguments that the national security benefits outweigh the anticompetitive issues. Therefore, the FTS notes, “the order is designed to address the ancillary competitive harms that DoD has identified without interfering with the national security benefits of ULA.”
Both Lockheed Martin and Boeing issues press releases congratulating the decision, which removes the last legal roadblock to the ULA’s formation. Neither company, though, set a date for when the ULA would actually come into being.