ULA, SpaceX Win NSSL Phase 2 Awards

ULA, SpaceX Win NSSL Phase 2 Awards

The U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) announced this afternoon that the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX are the two winners of the Phase 2 contracts for National Security Space Launches (NSSL).  They beat out Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin in the hard fought competition for launch service contracts beginning in 2022.

Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, called it a “groundbreaking day” that marks “a new epoch of space launch that will transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines.”

ULA uses RD-180 engines for its Atlas V rockets, but will transition to U.S.-made engines for its new Vulcan-Centaur rockets expected to begin service during the contract period. The use of Russian engines to launch U.S. national security satellites became controversial after the U.S.-Russian geopolitical climate changed following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. After bitter debates in the Senate, Congress directed DOD in 2016 to end use of Russian rocket engines for national security launches.

The Air Force Phase 2 NSSL solicitation was designed to select two, and only two, companies for launch service contracts issued in FY2020-FY2024 for DOD and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) missions.  The launches themselves are to take place in FY2022-FY2027.  One company would receive 60 percent and the other 40 percent of the launches.

Today’s announcement is that ULA, which for over a decade was the only launch service provider to DOD, gets the 60 percent and SpaceX 40 percent.

SMC, in collaboration with NRO, today are ordering three launches in FY2022:  two from ULA for $337 million and one for SpaceX for $316 million.

ULA President Tory Bruno said the company is “honored” to be chosen.

“Vulcan Centaur is the right choice for critical national security space missions and was purpose built to meet all of the requirements of our nation’s space launch needs. For decades, we have been a trusted partner to safely and securely deliver strategic national security space assets for our nation’s defense and this award shows the continued confidence of our customer in the commitment and dedication of our people to safeguard these missions by reliably launching our country’s most critical and challenging missions.”  — ULA President Tory Bruno

Northrop Grumman expressed disappointment that its OmegA rocket was not selected.

We are disappointed by this decision. We are confident we submitted a strong proposal that reflected our extensive space launch experience and provided value to our customer, and we are looking forward to our debriefing from the customer. — Northrop Grumman

Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin, pointed to his company’s private investment of $2.5 billion in the New Glenn rocket as a strength of its bid and vowed to continue on.

We are disappointed in the decision that New Glenn was not selected for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 Launch Services Procurement (LSP). We submitted an incredibly compelling offer for the national security community and the U.S. taxpayer. Blue Origin’s offer was based on New Glenn’s heavy-lift performance, unprecedented private investment of more than $2.5 billion, and a very competitive single basic launch service price for any mission across the entire ordering period. We are proceeding with New Glenn development to fulfill our current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts. We remain confident New Glenn will play a critical role for the national security community in the future due to the increasing realization that space is a contested domain and a robust, responsive, and resilient launch capability is ever more vital to U.S security. — Bob Smith, Blue Origin

Smith continued that Blue Origin nonetheless is happy that ULA’s Vulcan was chosen since it will use Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines.

Blue Origin is very proud that our BE-4 engine will power United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle in support of the Space Force’s NSSL program and end reliance on Russian-built engines. The BE-4 is the most powerful liquefied natural gas-fueled rocket engine ever developed and the first oxygen-rich staged combustion engine made in the U.S. We look forward to supporting ULA’s long-standing role in launching national security payloads.

SpaceX had not issued a statement as of press time.

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