A ULA Vulcan rocket during a test campaign (left) and a Falcon Heavy rocket during liftoff (right). Both launch vehicles were used to launch National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions during the fifth and final order year of the US Space Systems Command procurement. Images: ULA, SpaceX The US Space Systems Command has revealed details of the latest package of launch contracts for national security missions shared between United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.
This is the fifth and final year that Phase 2 National Security Space Launch (NSSL) task order awards have been presented. It also paves the way for more startups to join the mix in the future. NSSL missions help protect US assets both in orbit and on the ground. They also hold technology demonstrations and advances in various defense capabilities.
But financial uncertainty on Capitol Hill means that not all of the proposed missions, including a demonstration of a nuclear-powered thermal missile, may receive funding for some time.
According to the US Space Systems Command, of the 21 missions assigned to ULA and SpaceX, only eight should be ordered under the permanent solution scenario:
GPS III-9 (Vulcan – East Range) USSF-57 (Vulcan – East Range) NROL-73 (Vulcan – West Range) SpaceX
SDA T1TL-F (Falcon 9 – West Range) SDA T1TR-A (Falcon 9 – West Range) NROL-77 (Falcon 9 – East Range) SDA T1TR-E (Falcon 9 – West Range) GPS III-10 ( Falcon 9 – East Range) The Space Development Agency’s (SDA) T1TL-F mission is the sixth and final Tranche 1 transport layer launch mission, which will “provide reliable, resilient, low-latency military data and connectivity to all warfighter platforms worldwide “. according to SSC. The T1TR-A and T1TR-E are the last two launches of the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer, which “provides global indication, warning, tracking and targeting of advanced missile threats, including hypersonic missile systems.”
The launch sites for the eight missions are split evenly between the East Range in Florida and the West Range in California and will use ULA’s upcoming Vulcan rocket and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
As for how these eight missions were selected to be recommended for funding under the continuation decision, Maj. Christopher Box, SSC’s Phase 2 launch services acquisition manager, told Spaceflight Now, “These are the first eight missions launched chronologically.”
The federal government is currently funded under a short-term continuing resolution that was passed on Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown, but it will expire on Nov. 17, raising the prospect of a shutdown once again.
In order to fully fund the government during the fiscal year (October 1, 2023 to September 30, 2024), Congress must pass 12 appropriations bills. As of Tuesday, bills have passed the Senate from a bipartisan so-called “minibus” package, while House Republicans have passed seven partisan bills, according to Reuters.
As in September, Congress could pass another continuing resolution before the full FY24 appropriations bills are ready, but a consensus still needs to be reached.
List of 21 missions expected to launch under the fifth year of the NSSL Phase 2 Contract Launch Services Task Order Award Order. Image: Spaceflight Now. Phase 2 is coming to an end
October 31 SSC has announced the planned 21 missions to complete the procurement of NSSL Phase 2 launch services. This set of startup contracts was first published in 2020. on August 7, when the Space and Missile Systems Center (officially renamed SSC on August 13, 2021) was awarded two contracts with fixed-price, indefinite delivery requirements. ULA and SpaceX about 60-40.
“Over the course of the five-year Phase 2 contract, we will order a total of 48 missions, significantly more than the 34 missions originally planned for Phase 2,” said Brig. Gen. Kristin Panzenhagen, executive officer of the Assured Access to Space program, in a statement. “The increased pace of launches is a stark reminder of how vital space capabilities are in providing our warfighters and our nation’s decision makers with the information they need to outmaneuver and deter adversary forces.”
Following the first three missions assigned along with the Phase 2 announcement, the SSC further assigned four missions in FY21, eight missions in FY22, 12 missions in FY23, and 21 missions in FY24. The cost of the entire planned mission is approximately $5.6 billion, with approximately $3.1 billion for ULA and $2.5 billion for SpaceX.
When 2020 Phase 2 contracts were announced for the first time, Dr. William Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, said at the time that it was a “groundbreaking” advance in launch procurement with the National Intelligence Service.
“Maintaining a competitive launch market that serves both government and commercial customers is how we drive continued innovation in space access,” Roper said at the time. “Today’s awards mark a new era in space launch that will finally take over the department from Russia’s RD-180 engines.”
All Phase 2 missions awarded to ULA using the future Vulcan rocket. However, the USSF-51 mission, which in 2020 was awarded to the Vulcan, will be flown using an Atlas 5 rocket due to the delay in the Vulcan’s debut. It will be operational no earlier than 2024.
Our inaugural #VulcanRocket is now equipped with both GEM 63XL solid rocket boosters to provide extra thrust during liftoff. #Cert1 mission to launch a commercial lunar lander to the moon and a memorial payload to deep space. Delivery is scheduled for December 24th! pic.twitter.com/lfDzG1tGL5
— ULA (@ulalaunch) March 2023 November 6
Launching new opportunities
The final portion of the Phase 2 missions will launch three Vulcan rockets, which are still under development, from Vandenberg Space Force Base. There will also be three SpaceX launches using the Falcon Heavy rocket, including support for the next-generation GPS satellite.
The GPS 3 Follow-On (GPS 3F) series of satellites includes upgrades such as regional military protection capabilities and a new search and rescue payload.
Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract in 2018. in September to create 22 GPS 3F satellites with a total contract value of up to 7.2 billion. a third production option to acquire SV 18, 19 and 20 for approximately 774 million
Also in the mix is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Demonstrator Missile for Mobile Cislunar Operations (DRACO), assigned mission to USSF-25. It will demonstrate the capabilities of a high-enriched low-enriched uranium (HALEU) nuclear thermal rocket in space, which researchers say will be two to three times more efficient than a conventional internal combustion engine.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines HALEU as “uranium enriched to a concentration of the fissile isotope uranium-235 (U-235) between 5% and 20% by mass of uranium.
This mission is expected to begin in 2027. in March, according to a presentation by DRACO program manager Tabitha Dodson at the von Braun Space Exploration Symposium last month. SSC confirmed that it will be launched from a Vulcan rocket.
10/ This is a flight profile overview.👇🏾 pic.twitter.com/XdCGaEusKu
— Will Robinson-Smith🚀 (@w_robinsonsmith) March 2023 October 26
Another new technology will be launched with the USSF-95 mission on another Vulcan rocket. This will be the first launch of a prototype missile tracking satellite, which the SSC says will “evaluate the ability of various next-generation persistent infrared sensor designs to meet missile tracking requirements.”
Five missions are also launched in this batch on behalf of NRO.
“We maintain close partnerships with our mission customers and the local launch industry to protect our nation,” SSC senior materiel manager Mission Solutions Space Acquisition Delta Col. Chad Melone said in a statement. “Under our Phase 2 contract, ULA and SpaceX have been committed partners, and our combined team remains dedicated to delivering critical assets to our warfighters as we complete this phase of the NSSL program and begin NSSL Phase 3, which began in FY25.”
Phase 3 will see new entrants compete for the NSSL awards. Companies such as Blue Origin and Relativity Space are expected to compete for future launches.