Space Force Considers Strategy to Procure National Security Launch Services

Acquisitions director Frank Calvelli said he would be open to a different model than the current two-vendor approach

WASHINGTON — The Los Angeles Space Force launch order will send to the Pentagon later this year a proposed strategy for selecting national security launch services for the next round of contracts expected to be awarded in 2024.

“The NSSL [National Security Space Launch] The team is working out the strategy for Phase 3, but nothing has been agreed upon,” Frank Calvelli, the Space Force’s senior acquisition manager, told reporters on June 28.

United Launch Alliance and SpaceX won five-year NSSL Phase 2 contracts in 2020 to launch as many as 35 military and intelligence space missions. These contracts are to be concluded again in 2024,

The launch office at the Space Systems Command will prepare a proposed Phase 3 strategy in the summer and fall, “and then it will go through the approval cycle here. So it’s in the works,” he said.

Calvelli said he would be open to a different model than the current two-vendor approach. One of the options discussed is to select multiple vendors to compete for job orders, a method the Space Force uses to purchase smallsat launch services under the Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP). The program also makes it possible to add new providers if the government decides to need more competitors.

“We haven’t made any decisions on that yet, and we’re still thinking about it,” Calvelli said. “But that’s a thought that has come up.”

Calvelli said he liked the RSLP model “because it can add new people…and show they can do things.” In today’s industry “there are all these different providers. And there are really great ones. So how do you take advantage of that and make sure you can be innovative in allowing new people into the contract?”

The Space Systems Command conducted market research in preparation for Phase 3. In January, it made a request to industrial providers to request information about their capabilities.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond told the House Armed Services Committee in April that “there is room for more competition” in the NSSL program. The commission said in its version of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act that the Space Force should “explore new and innovative acquisition approaches to leverage launch competition within the commercial market.”

Todd Harrison, senior vice president and head of research at Meta Aerospace, said the two-vendor strategy needs to be reconsidered.

“You don’t have to lock yourself into a five-year duopoly, which is what their current acquisition strategy is doing,” Harrison said at an online event hosted by the National Security Space Association on June 28.

“They could open that up and you might have other launch companies like Blue Origin and others that will be up and running in the near future. So why limit yourself? Go with the best provider. That’s value.”

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