Space Force to change the way it buys launch services for national security

WASHINGTON — The US Space Force on Feb. 16 released its procurement strategy for the next national security launch service contracts, which are expected to be awarded in 2024.

Space Systems Command has issued two draft proposals for Phase 3 of the National Security Space Launch (NSSL). This is a “two-lane procurement approach” that represents a departure from the previous NSSL Phase 2 procurement and aims to create more opportunities for emerging launch providers.

United Launch Alliance and SpaceX won Phase 2 in 2020 and their current contracts are being re-tendered.

Space Systems Command will consider industry feedback before issuing a final tender for NSSL Phase 3 later this year. Command will host an “Industry Day” briefing February 28-March 1 in Los Angeles.

“We have developed an acquisition strategy consisting of a two-pronged approach that provides access to various commercially available systems, increases resiliency through alternate launch locations and optimized integration timelines, and allows for an annual rollout of new launch vendors and systems,” said Major General. Stephen Purdy, program executive officer for secured access to space, said in a statement.

To win the NSSL Phase 2 contracts, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance had to demonstrate that their vehicles could fly payloads in nine “reference orbits,” which would require medium and heavy launch vehicles.

The strategy for phase 3 is less rigid. Under the “dual lane” approach, companies that cannot fly to all orbits can compete for less demanding missions. This approach has been advocated by companies like Blue Origin and Rocket Lab.

NSSL Phase 3 Lane 1

  • This is a multiple fixed price, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract open to all qualified bidders.
  • Bidders do not have to complete all NSSL orbits to participate. Lane 1 will have yearly expansion opportunities as new vendors or systems are ready.
  • This portion of the contract covers procurements from fiscal years 2025 through 2034, with a five-year base order period plus a five-year option.
  • Launch service contracts are advertised annually among all IDIQ award winners.

NSSL phase 3 lane 2

  • This is similar to NSSL Phase 2. The Space Force will select two vendors that can meet all NSSL orbits and unique mission capabilities.
  • The contracts have a five-year term from fiscal year 2025 to 2029.
  • Gauge 2 payloads require launches to more strenuous orbits, requiring more capable launch systems and complex safety and integration requirements. Gauge 2 also allows the government to defray missile development costs to fulfill government-specific missions.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, politics, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She’s almost covered the military, Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry… More from Sandra Erwin

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