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Lockheed Martin wins rare commercial contract for Atlas launch

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp has won a rare commercial contract for launch services on its unmanned Atlas 5 rocket, officials said on Thursday.

The customer is the government of Mexico, which will pay Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services an undisclosed amount to fly its Moralos 3 communications satellite in 2015.

"I'm sure it was a very competitive offer," said Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Joan Underwood.

The company also has commercial contracts with DigitalGlobe Inc for two Atlas 5 launches to fly its WorldView 3 and GeoEye2 satellites.

The last commercial Atlas launch was for Intelsat Corp in November 2009, Underwood said.

The primary customer for Atlas 5, as well as Delta 4 rockets, is the U.S. military. Both boosters are manufactured by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co .

Until privately owned Space Exploration Technologies began selling commercial launches on its Falcon boosters, satellite owners and operators took most of their business to Europe, Russia and other countries.

The California-based firm, known as SpaceX, has a contract with NASA to fly cargo to the International Space Station, as well as a backlog of more than 40 other Falcon rocket flights on its manifest for commercial customers and foreign governments.

SpaceX is working to break United Launch Alliance's virtual monopoly on flying military satellites as well.

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, sees a growing future in the commercial launch world.

(This story was fixed to correct the market ticker symbol for Intelsat, to I.N)

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Stephen Coates)

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