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Aerojet makes $2 billion offer for Lockheed-Boeing joint venture: sources

An Atlas 5 United Launch Alliance rocket lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft in Cape Canaveral, Florida November 18, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Skipper (Reuters)

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc <AJRD.N> has submitted a $2 billion offer to buy United Launch Alliance (ULA), a spacecraft launch services provider that is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp <LMT.N> and Boeing Co <BA.N>, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Aerojet Rocketdyne board member Warren Lichtenstein, the chairman and chief executive of Steel Partners LLC, approached ULA President Tory Bruno and senior Lockheed and Boeing executives about the bid in early August, the sources said.

Aerojet Rocketdyne spokesman Glenn Mahone said the company would not comment on any negotiations that it was involved in with any company. Lockheed declined comment. No immediate comment was available from Boeing.

ULA was created in 2005 after nearly two years of negotiations between the two companies, which overcome opposition from the Federal Trade Commission, arguing the venture would result in significant savings.

The U.S. Air Force, eager to reintroduce competition to the market, has worked hard in recent years to certify a new competitor, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, or SpaceX, to launch certain military and spy satellites.

The Air Force also plans to end certain launch support of about $1 billion a year that it had provided to ULA for years, now that another competitor is available.

Aerojet Rocketdyne, which makes rocket engines, had hoped to adapt its new AR-1 engine for use on ULA's Atlas 5 rocket, replacing the Russian-built RD-180 engine it now uses.

But ULA's current plan is to use a new engine being developed by Blue Origin, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

One of the sources said the ULA's owners might welcome the unsolicited bid, given increased competition from SpaceX that is likely to cut into ULA's revenues and earnings in coming years.

Lockheed and Boeing, wary of declining revenue prospects, have funded ULA's work on a new rocket only on a quarterly basis, given concerns about ULA's ability to use existing RD-180 engines for military and spy satellite launches.

Congress banned the use of the Russian engines for such launches from 2019 after Russia's invasion of the Crimea region of Ukraine.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)