The Space Systems Command Headquarters in Los Angeles, California.
US Space Force / Jose Lou Hernandez
The US military is preparing to buy another round of corporate rocket launches next year, and Space Force leadership say they are taking a new “mutual fund approach” to the acquisition strategy.
“Rather than picking a single stock, we’re taking two different approaches because we felt that would best allow the government to rotate,” said Col. Chad Melone, the U.S. Space Systems Command’s chief of launch procurement & integration Space Force held a press conference on Friday.
Earlier this month, the Space Force began the process of buying five years’ worth of launches under a lucrative program called National Security Space Launch Phase 3. In 2020, the second phase of the NSSL awarded contracts to two companies – Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Boeing And Lockheed Martin – for about 40 military missions worth about $1 billion a year.
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However, as a number of companies bring missiles to market, Space Force splits the NSSL Phase 3 into two groups for about 70 launches. Gauge 1 is the new way, about 30 missions with lower requirements and a more flexible tendering process, allowing companies to compete for rocket launches in the years to come. Lane 2 represents the legacy approach, where the Space Force plans to select two companies for approximately 40 missions that have the most demanding requirements.
“Several factors have strongly influenced our strategy, most notably the ever-expanding market for commercial product launches, [and] the more than 50 percent increase in national security space missions over what we had in Phase 2,” Colonel Doug Pentecost, deputy program manager at Space Systems Command, told the press.
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The Space Force leadership named several companies that can now apply in the two-pronged process, including rocket lab, relativity and ABL space. Whitsun also noted that Space Systems Command signed a certification plan with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin for its New Glenn rocket “a few months ago,” with the goal of proving it could fly national security missions after three launches.
Whitsun emphasized the cost savings behind the competitive approach of buying launches. For the most powerful rockets, Pentecost said SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Vulcan rockets cost “about half” the cost of the previous decade’s Delta IV Heavy rockets, a savings of “nearly 50%” for the previous decade Military conforms to “deploy the largest satellites”. Space.”
“We’re saving a lot of money at the high end while still managing to take advantage of the commercialized prices at the low end,” Pentecost said.
Regardless, the Space Force is closely monitoring the growing demand for commercial launches. Melone said that non-military satellite missions would have to be “on the extremely high side” of current projections, constraining the Space Force’s plans either by the availability of launch areas or the companies’ production capacity.
Organizations are already achieving unprecedented annual adoption rates. Space Force predicts that its Eastern Range in Florida will see 92 launches in 2023, up from 57 in 2022, and its Western Range in California will have 42 launches in 2023, up from 19.