The key to private space delivery may be terrible geopolitics. SpaceX, the rocket startup from Elon Musk, might soon get to carry its first military payload to space thanks in part to poor relations between the United States and Russia.
SpaceX's main competitor, the United Launch Alliance of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, repurposes old Russian rockets to carry cargo into space. After Russia invaded and occupied Crimea, Congress banned the use of Russian rockets to carry military satellites into space. ULA is developing a different rocket, but it won't be ready for another several years at least. In the meantime, the Department of Defense can choose to either not send up new satellites, or to go with newly certified launches by SpaceX.
ULA’s chief executive, Tory Bruno, told the Washington Post that his company was “unable to submit a compliant proposal” because of contract requirements and the limitations Congress has imposed on the RD-180 engine.
The Air Force wants to launch its next satellite in 2018, and will accept bids for that launch some time in 2017.