SpaceX and United Launch Alliance have won massive five-year National Security Space Launch contracts from the U.S. Space Force and National Reconnaissance Office, the Space and Missile Systems Center announced Aug. 7.
The contracts will support more than 30 heavy lift launches planned between fiscal 2022 through 2027, with task orders to be made from fiscal 2020 through 2024. 60 percent of launch services orders will go to ULA, with SpaceX taking up the remaining 40 percent. The two firm-fixed-price, indefinite delivery requirement contracts included funding for the first year of launches: $337 for ULA and $316 for SpaceX.
“This is a groundbreaking day, culminating years of strategic planning and effort by the Department of the Air Force, NRO and our launch service industry partners,” said William Roper, assistant secretary of the U.S. Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, in a statement. “Maintaining a competitive launch market, servicing both government and commercial customers, is how we encourage continued innovation on assured access to space. Today’s awards mark a new epoch of space launch that will finally transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines.”
Following a Congressional mandate, the Department of Defense began the NSSL competition in 2019 to end U.S. reliance on the Russian propulsion systems used for the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. A four-way competition ensued, with Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and ULA designing new rockets for the military and SpaceX submitting their already certified Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The Space and Missile Systems Center claimed that a report issued in April by think tank RAND supported its decision to award contracts to only two launch providers, arguing that the market could only support two.
“This landmark award begins the dawn of a new decade in U.S. launch innovation, while promoting competition, maintaining a healthy industrial base, and reinforcing our global competitive advantage,” stated Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of SMC and program executive officer for space. “This acquisition will maintain our unprecedented mission success record, transition National Security Space payloads to new launch vehicles, assure access for current and future space architectures and cultivate innovative mission assurance practices.”
With the announcement, SMC announced the first three missions to be assigned under the new contracts: USSF-51 and USSF-106 for ULA, and USSF-67 for SpaceX. All three will take place in fiscal 2022.
This story will be updated.
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.