ULA, SpaceX Win Space Force Launch Provider Competition

 In Industry, Acquisition, & Innovation, Air, Space, Forces & Capabilities

United Launch Alliance and SpaceX will move on in the Space Force’s National Security Space Launch pro­gram, tem­porar­i­ly knock­ing out Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin as they tried to edge into the mil­i­tary rocket market.

Both ULA and SpaceX already serve as the Pentagon’s pri­ma­ry launch providers.

“We’re very excit­ed within the Space Force to pro­vide a launch capa­bil­i­ty to the entire depart­ment that is depend­able and reli­able, and we look for­ward to build­ing on the per­fect 81-out-of-81 mis­sion suc­cess that the Air Force, and now Space Force, has pro­vid­ed,” Department of the Air Force acqui­si­tion boss Will Roper told reporters Aug. 7. 

NSSL is a multi-year effort that looks to drive down the cost of putting satel­lites and other space assets on orbit by engag­ing with non-tra­di­tion­al con­trac­tors and push­ing fur­ther into modern designs such as reusable rock­ets.

ULA will pro­vide the rock­ets for 60 per­cent of Space Force launch mis­sions through 2024, while SpaceX will handle the other 40 per­cent. ULA is receiv­ing $337 mil­lion for two mis­sions in fiscal 2022 – USSF-51 in the second quar­ter and USSF-106 in the fourth quar­ter. SpaceX will receive $316 mil­lion to launch USSF-67 in the fourth quar­ter of fiscal 2022.

Together, they will sup­port up to 34 Space Force and National Reconnaissance Office launch­es over the next few years as the U.S. ditch­es the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine com­mon­ly used for mil­i­tary space launch­es. Both will receive addi­tion­al con­tracts as more launch­es approach on the man­i­fest. 

The Pentagon must stop buying rock­ets with the RD-180 by the end of 2022 to comply with fed­er­al law.

“Vulcan Centaur is the right choice for crit­i­cal nation­al secu­ri­ty space mis­sions and was pur­pose-built to meet all of the require­ments of our nation’s space launch needs,” ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno said in a release. “This award shows the con­tin­ued con­fi­dence of our cus­tomer in the com­mit­ment and ded­i­ca­tion of our people to safe­guard these mis­sions.”

SpaceX offers its Falcon family of rock­ets for mil­i­tary mis­sions. The com­pa­ny did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to a request for com­ment.

Officials judged the bid­ders on their tech­ni­cal merit, past per­for­mance, abil­i­ty to work with small busi­ness­es, and price, Roper said. The pro­gram tem­porar­i­ly hit a snag when the Government Accountability Office sided with Blue Origin in a bid protest that chal­lenged the selec­tion cri­te­ria as ambigu­ous and unrea­son­able.

Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman, who were matur­ing their rocket tech­nolo­gies under pre­vi­ous con­tracts, will be allowed to bid on the third phase of the pro­gram later in the 2020s.

“We will work with those two com­pa­nies to deter­mine the right point to tie off their work,” Roper said. “The goal is not to carry them indef­i­nite­ly. The point … was to create a more com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment, lead­ing into phase two, which was full and open, and every com­pe­ti­tion here­after will be full and open.” 

The Space Force believes its launch needs can only sup­port two con­trac­tors, but that it’s help­ful for other com­pa­nies to con­tin­ue work­ing on their prod­ucts in the mean­time, Roper said. The ser­vice says its cost-cut­ting mea­sures have freed up $7 bil­lion in pro­cure­ment funds for the Department of the Air Force and NRO to use else­where.

“We don’t think this is the last round of inno­va­tion that we’re going to see,” Roper said. “Though we’re excit­ed for the next five years of phase two, we’re look­ing ahead to phase three, five years from now, and we’re just won­der­ing what new leap-ahead, lower-cost tech­nolo­gies might be on the fore­front to make assured access to space not just assured, but cheap­er.”

Air Force Magazine source|articles

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