Lockheed Martin announced April 5 that it had signed an agreement with small launch startup ABL Space Systems for as many as 58 launches over the next decade.
ABL Space was founded in 2017 and is developing its RS1 launch vehicle. The two-stage launch vehicle is designed to be capable of delivering payloads of up to 1,350 kilograms to low Earth orbit at a cost of $12 million per launch.
The contract with Lockheed Martin covers an initial block of 26 launches through 2025 with the option for an additional 32 through 2029. The launches would be conducted from a network of launch sites including Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg and the Shetland Space Centre currently under development in Scotland.
According to Lockheed Martin, the launches are to be used to perform demonstration missions for next-generation technology that will lay the groundwork for future efforts. The company did not disclose any additional details leaving somewhat of a mystery as to their decision to commit to one of the largest launch contracts, by number of launches, ever signed.
As a new entrant to the launch market without a single attempt under their belt, the Lockheed Martin launch contract offers ABL space with an unprecedented level of security for its future growth.
The 58-launch contract is the latest in a series of steps Lockheed Martin has taken to support the budding launch provider.
In July 2019, the venture arm of Lockheed Martin made a “strategic investment” in ABL Space. Although both parties declined to indicate how large the investment was, ABL stated that the funds would be used to support the development and testing of the RS1 vehicle.
Early this year, Lockheed Martin awarded ABL Space with a launch contract to deploy six 6U cubesats into orbit from the Shetland Space Centre. The $31 million launch contract included a RS1 launch vehicle equipped with a Moog orbital manoeuvring vehicle, a propulsive space tug utilized for secondary precise orbital insertion. The mission is slated to be launched in 2022.
With this latest award, it appears that ABL Space has become the preferred small launch provider for Lockheed Martin with ties that are likely to only be strengthened in the future.