Space force

Space Force is considering a new acquisition approach for the next phase of medium and heavy launches

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force is about to begin drafting its acquisition strategy for the next phase of medium and heavy launch services contracts amid a new push from the House Armed Services Committee to consider procurement methods. ‘new and innovative’ supply.

Frank Calvelli, Air Force assistant secretary for space acquisition and integration, told reporters during a June 28 briefing that he expects the Phase 3 strategy of the National Security Space Launch Program be completed by late fall.

In 2020, Space Force awarded five-year contracts to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX to provide lift services for more than 30 planned NSSL Phase 2 launches between fiscal year 2022 and fiscal year 2027. ULA , once the only high-class government launch provider, won a 60% reduction in missions and SpaceX, a commercial launch company and new entrant to the national security market, secured the rest.

Although the launches included in the Phase 2 agreement will continue through fiscal year 2027, orders for these services will end in fiscal year 2024 and Space Force plans to begin soliciting bids for the phase. 3 the same year.

The Phase 2 NSSL contract was significant in that it opened up to more companies what was a closed, single-source market for major military space launches. Lawmakers, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., want the Space Force to consider more ways to spur competition in the next round of contracts.

In the committee’s version of the fiscal year 2023 defense policy bill, lawmakers called for the service’s strategy to consider growth and innovation in the launch industry as well as the plan to Space Force to transition to a hybrid architecture with smaller satellites located in more diverse orbital regimes. . The committee also urged the service to consider a range of contracting approaches, including options to add vendors when executing Phase 3 “to accommodate manifest changes beyond single space launches. national security risks foreseen at the time of the initial award”.

The service has yet to finalize its plans for Phase 3, Calvelli said. He is considering the possibility of including smaller classes of pitchers as part of the contract.

“There are all these different providers, there are some really good ones,” Calvelli said. “So how do you leverage that and make sure you’re able to be innovative in allowing new people to be contracted?”

He pointed to one of Space Force’s smaller launch contract mechanisms, the Rocket Systems Launch Program, which coordinates launch services for non-NSSL missions and works with a growing number of commercial vendors. He said a consideration for the acquisition team will be whether to keep RSLP separate from the NSSL contract.

Calvelli told reporters he will visit ULA’s plant in Decatur, Alabama this week to get an update on the company’s progress with its Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will replace the Atlas V launch vehicles and company’s Delta IV and will carry a space-developed propulsion system. launch of the company Blue Origin. Development issues with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine have slowed ULA’s launch plans, but the company plans to launch Vulcan this year.

“One of the first visits I make to the industry is there to make sure they understand the importance of meeting their goals with the delivery of this engine as well as the launch,” said he declared.

Meanwhile, Space Force is on track to launch two missions this week – one purchased through RSLP and one through NSSL.

The RSLP launcher, dubbed STP-S28A, will fly Wednesday from Virgin Orbit National Systems’ air-launched rocket, LauncherOne. The rocket will carry seven experimental payloads. Based in El Segundo, Calif., Virgin Orbit National Systems is a national security-focused company owned by Virgin Orbit. Wednesday’s mission will take off from a Virgin Orbit 747-400 carrier plane, which will begin its flight at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

The NSSL mission, USSF-12, is scheduled to launch on June 30 and will carry several payloads intended to reduce risk and mature technology for future programs. One of these satellites, the Wide-Field-of-View Testbed, was designed to mature technology for Space Force’s next-generation persistent infrared program.