Space Force missile launch acquisitions take ‘mutual fund approach’

  • Space Force leadership described a new “mutual fund approach” for the next round of buying corporate rocket launches.
  • “Instead of taking one stock, we’re taking two different approaches, because we thought that was the best way for the government to run,” Colonel Chad Melone told the press at a briefing on Friday.
  • Space Force is taking a two-pronged approach in buying about 70 launches, with more flexible requirements that will increase the number of companies that can compete.

Space Systems Command headquarters in Los Angeles, California.

U.S. Space Force / Jose Lou Hernandez

The US military is preparing to buy another round of corporate missile launches next year, and Space Force leadership says they are taking a new “mutual fund approach” to the acquisition strategy.

“Instead of taking one stock, we’re taking two different approaches because we felt that’s what would make the government run best,” said Colonel Chad Melone, chief of the U.S. Space Force’s Launch Procurement & Integration Division. a press conference on Friday.

Earlier this month, the Space Force began the process of purchasing five years’ worth of launches, under a lucrative program known as National Security Space Launch Phase 3. In 2020, NSSL’s second phase awarded contracts to two companies: Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin – for about 40 military missions, worth about $1 billion a year.

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But with a number of companies marketing rockets, Space Force is splitting NSSL Phase 3 into two groups for about 70 launches. Orbit 1 is the new course, about 30 missions with lower requirements and a more flexible bidding process that will allow companies to compete for launches as a rocket debut for years to come. Lane 2 represents the legacy approach, with the Space Force planning to select two companies for about 40 missions that have the most demanding requirements.

“Several factors have strongly influenced our strategy, in particular the ever-expanding commercial launch market, [and] the more than 50% increase in national security space missions over what we had in Phase 2,” Colonel Doug Pentecost, Space Systems Command deputy program executive officer, told the press.

Space Force leadership has named several companies that can now compete in the dual-track process, including Rocket Lab, Relativity and ABL Space. Pentecost also noted that Space Systems Command signed a certification plan “a few months ago” with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin for its New Glenn rocket, under which the company wants to prove after three launches that it can perform national security missions.

Pentecost highlighted the cost savings behind the competitive launch buying approach. For the most powerful rockets, Pentecost said SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rockets and ULA’s Vulcan rockets cost “about half” what the previous decade’s Delta IV Heavy rockets cost, a savings of “nearly 50%” for the military to “deploy the largest satellites”. room.”

“We save a lot of money on the high end while still managing to use commercialized prices on the low end,” Pentecost said.

Separately, Space Force is closely monitoring the growing demand for commercial launches. Melone said non-military satellite missions would need to be “on the extremely high end” of current projections to constrain Space Force’s plans, either by the availability of launch ranges or companies’ production capacity.

Companies are already achieving unprecedented annual launch rates. Space Force projects that the Eastern Range in Florida will see 92 launches in 2023, up from 57 in 2022, and the Western Range in California will have 42 launches in 2023, up from 19.


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