Roughly $50 million per satellite could be saved by boosting two Global Positioning System (GPS) III spacecraft using a single rocket, according to United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Lockheed Martin officials.

Today, each GPS satellite is launched from a single Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). The Air Force is planning to begin a “dual launch” program for GPS III starting with the ninth satellite, though ULA and Lockheed Martin officials say they could do it much sooner.

The team is studying how to safely encapsulate and eject two satellites from a single booster now with funding provided by the service.

Some questions include how to get the spacecraft from their transfer orbit into the final orbital slots. Options include boosting the performance of the satellites or developing a secondary vehicle for the transfer, says Tony Taliancich, director of the customer program office at ULA.

The cost avoidance could reach as high as $1.5 billion over the life of the system if the service buys 30 satellites for the constellation and uses a dual-launch capability, these officials say.

Already, the team has begun preliminary design work on an Atlas V Dual Satellite System, a canister to provide separate load paths for two spacecraft on a single booster. The two would be stacked, according to industry officials. The dual-launch concept points to an Atlas V with a 5-meter fairing and five solid rocket strap-ons.

Industry officials suggest the capability is “low-risk” and could be ready in about three years. However, the Air Force is taking a more conservative approach. One industry official suggests this is so that ULA does not have an advantage over Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which is still developing a capability to compete with the Atlas V and Delta IVs offered by ULA. GPS is the most likely entry point for SpaceX to get into the Air Force market.