The U.S. Space Force has recently announced the assignment of 21 rocket launches to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, with a total value of approximately $2.5 billion. These assignments mark the final round of orders under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 program. Let’s delve deeper into the details of these assignments and what they mean for the space industry.
According to Col. Doug Pentecost, the deputy program executive officer of the Space Force’s Space Systems Command, the assignments were split almost evenly between SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. ULA received 11 missions, valued at $1.3 billion, while SpaceX received 10 missions, valued at $1.23 billion. These missions are scheduled to launch over the next two to three years.
United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, will utilize its new Vulcan rocket for the 11 assigned missions. On the other hand, SpaceX will employ its Falcon 9 rocket for seven missions and its Falcon Heavy rocket for three missions. It is worth noting that the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets have already been certified for national security launches, whereas ULA’s Vulcan is yet to be launched to orbit and receive Space Force certification.
Expansion of NSSL Phase 2
The Space Force has significantly expanded the NSSL Phase 2 program since selecting SpaceX and ULA as its two launch providers in 2020. Originally, Phase 2 aimed to consist of 34 missions. However, due to the increased demand for national security launches, the program has now been expanded to include a total of 48 missions.
Reassessment of Mission Assignments
Space Force’s decision to assign more missions to SpaceX than initially anticipated was based on the government’s assessment of readiness. The agency recognizes the importance of rapidly delivering critical space capabilities to the Joint Warfighter, without leaving any potential capability on the ground. Therefore, allocating these missions to SpaceX aligns with their readiness to launch.
As Space Force concludes NSSL Phase 2, it is preparing to enter Phase 3, which aims to further expand the program. This year, the military agency initiated the process of purchasing an estimated 90 launches for the next round. The division led by Col. Doug Pentecost will soon commence the review of Phase 3 bids from various companies and expects to announce the winners in October of next year.
The assignment of these rocket launches to SpaceX and ULA not only reinforces their position as key players in the space industry but also highlights the growing demand for national security launches. As the field continues to evolve, it is crucial for companies to focus on readiness and capability, as demonstrated by SpaceX’s success in securing a larger share of the assignments based on the government’s assessment.
The recent announcement by the U.S. Space Force regarding the assignment of 21 rocket launches to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance is a significant development in the space industry. With a total value of $2.5 billion, these assignments reinforce the importance of readiness and capability in providing critical space capabilities to the Joint Warfighter. As Space Force moves forward into NSSL Phase 3, the competition among companies to secure contracts is expected to intensify, promising further advancements in the field of space exploration and national security.