An August 7 Space Force press release announced that it had awarded fixed-price, indefinite delivery contracts to ULA and SpaceX for National Security Space launch services. The contracts mark a significant moment for the United States with the long awaited shift away from the county’s reliance on the Russian RD-180 rocket engines for National Security missions.
“Today’s awards mark a new epoch of space launch that will finally transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines,” said Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Dr. William Roper.
The total award for the contracts stands at $653 million with ULA receiving $337 million and SpaceX $316 million. ULA is expected to be responsible for approximately 60 percent of the total missions with SpaceX receiving the remaining 40 percent.
According to Space Force representatives, the highly competitive procurement process, which also included bids from Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman resulted in “considerable savings” for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program. This will add to the almost $7 billion the NSSL program has returned to the Department of the Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office since 2013.
“Maintaining a competitive launch market, servicing both government and commercial customers, is how we encourage continued innovation on assured access to space,” said Roper.
The first Phase 2 Block Buy NSSL mission is expected in the second quarter of 2022 with the launch of USSF-51 aboard a ULA Vulcan Centaur. It is expected to be just the fourth flight aboard the as yet untested next-generation ULA launch vehicle.
In addition to USSF-51, the US Space Force press release also revealed that USSF-106 and USSF-67 will be launched in the fourth quarter of 2022 aboard a ULA Vulcan Centaur and an as yet unannounced SpaceX Falcon vehicle respectively.