Space

Space Force walks back stimulus contracts for small launch providers

Less than two weeks after the U.S. Space Force invoked the Defense Production Act to prop up six small launch providers, those awards have been withdrawn.

On June 16, the Space and Missile Systems Center announced in a beta.SAM.gov post that it was awarding rideshare contracts to six companies approved by the Industrial Base Council: Aevum, Astra, X-BOW, Rocket Lab USA, Space Vector and VOX Space. Each company was to be awarded two rideshare missions to be conducted over the next 24 months. The value of those contracts was not revealed.

But as first reported by SpaceNews, SMC has withdrawn those awards.

A new statement on beta.SAM.gov notes that the government “is re-evaluating its strategy on how best to proceed with this action” after receiving several responses to its decision. As a result, the contracts will not be awarded at this time. A Justification and Approval document was supposed to be made public within 14 days of contract award, but the withdrawal of the awards occurred before that deadline.

While Space Force officials haven’t spoken publicly about the Defense Production Act awards since they were announced online, the Pentagon was vocal in expressing concern about COVID-19 impacts on the small launch market in the months leading up to the announcement.

On April 20, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord stated that the small launch market was one of three sectors she was most worried about. The Space and Missile Systems Center elaborated on her remarks in a statement to C4ISRNET.

“There is concern that the current financial and market constraints resulting from the COVID-19 have reduced funding sources necessary to continue development and operations for the nascent small launch industry,” said Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of SMC’s launch enterprise directorate. “Much of the industry have limited flight capability or are in the critical transition from development to flight and this funding restriction may prevent or delay these systems. The Space and Missile Systems Center is evaluating the impacts to the small launch industrial base to consider actions to enable a robust U.S. launch industrial base.”

Shortly thereafter, the Space Force Acquisition Council held an emergency meeting to discuss how they could support industry partners negatively impacted by COVID-19. The council ultimately sent out a survey to members of the Space Enterprise Consortium to see what industry needed from the Department of Defense.

Finally on June 16, the same day the announcement went live, SMC Commander Lt. Gen. John “JT” Thompson suggested that the Space Force would use Defense Production Act awards to support the small launch market.

“In the small launch environment, Secretary Lord and [U.S. Space Force Service Acquisition Executive Will] Roper have both commented about how important small launch is to our enterprise, and I can’t give you the details right now but I would anticipate here very shortly some very critical Defense Production Act awards to our small launch providers to keep that industry going,” Thompson said

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