Lockheed Martin [LMT] said recently a joint study conducted with United Launch Alliance (ULA) estimates the Air Force could save $50 million per Global Positioning System (GPS) III spacecraft launch by using dual launch technology–two satellites per launch rocket.

“Our estimates show that dual launch for GPS III (aboard a single Atlas V rocket) reduces per spacecraft launch cost by approximately $50 million,” Lockheed Martin spokesman Michael Friedman said in an email. “Over the GPS III constellation deployment lifecycle, this could result in $700 million to $1.5 billion in savings. Furthermore, it is estimated that all non-recurring developmental cost can be recovered in the very first dual launch mission.”

Friedman said the Lockheed Martin/ULA study results were delivered to the Air Force in December and top officials have expressed “strong support” for dual launch. Friedman also said the Air Force plans to put Lockheed Martin and ULA on contract this summer to bring the dual launch concept to a System Requirements Review (SRR) level of maturity this year.

Friedman said Lockheed Martin believes it can start using dual launch as early as 2017 with GPS III vehicles five and six.

Lockheed Martin would not release the study for viewing. The Air Force did not respond to questions by press time.

Orbital Sciences Corp., a provider of small and medium-class space and rocket systems, isn’t happy with the government’s involvement with ULA. Orbital CEO David Thompson wrote in a May 17 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) that the Pentagon’s proposed “block buy” of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, the rockets capable of carrying GPS III satellites into space, will perpetuate a “long-term, high-cost monopoly” and will “seriously inhibit” the prospects for effective competition in the launch market.

Thompson said the government subsidizing ULA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing [BA], to provide access to space for U.S. government missions, obscures the true costs of EELVs and removes much of the motivation for ULA to seek operating cost efficiencies. He said it also incentivizes some government users to purchase EELVs from ULA because of their “artificially low production prices.”

“(This) creates an unfair competitive advantage for ULA in competition with Orbital and other United States rocket companies who do not receive such a cost subsidy,” Thompson said in the letter.

Orbital did not respond to an email for comment on the Lockheed Martin/ULA study by press time.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the GPS III program. The first GPS III satellite is expected to be ready for launch in May 2014.

Lockheed Martin is under contract to build two GPS III satellites and to produce long-lead items for the next two. The Air Force’s contract with Lockheed Martin contains options for total production of 12 GPS III satellites.