The USA Area Drive (USSF) lately launched a second draft of a request for proposals (RFP) for the forthcoming section three of the nationwide safety house launch (NSSL) program. Part three will cowl launch orders over a five-year interval beginning in October 2024 — the beginning of fiscal yr (FY) 2025 — and has been structured to encourage extra suppliers to enter.
The NSSL program supplies a lot of the house launch contracts for the US Division of Protection (DOD), together with flights for the Nationwide Reconnaissance Workplace (NRO). Colonel Douglas Pentecost and Colonel Chad Melone of the USSF supplied extra element concerning the new draft RFP in a teleconference on Wednesday, July 19.
The NSSL program is presently in section two, which has two suppliers, ULA and SpaceX, splitting the obtainable missions. Through the first 4 years of the section two ordering interval, there have been awards of three, 4, eight, and 12 missions. The ultimate set of section two orders subsequent yr is anticipated to incorporate 21 missions.
Part three of the NSSL program has a barely totally different construction to assist encourage competitors and usher in new launch suppliers. This section has an preliminary time period of 5 years and can start awarding mission assignments in FY2025, with the flights to start in FY2027. A complete of round 90 missions are anticipated to be awarded over the five-year interval.
There are two totally different units of contracts for section three with very totally different units of necessities. Lane one is for extra risk-tolerant missions which are typically going to low-Earth orbit (LEO), and it has far fewer constraints on the launch suppliers.
Lane two is way much less threat tolerant and requires the flexibility to satisfy stricter efficiency necessities. This lane is designed to satisfy the necessities of pricy payloads going to distinctive orbits with a really excessive success charge.
The lane one and lane two competitions will occur in parallel, with firms in a position to submit proposals and win contracts in each lanes. It’s anticipated that every firm would suggest one system for every orbit in lane two, however lane one supplies the flexibility to supply totally different or a number of techniques.
Lane one launch suppliers don’t want to satisfy the in depth set of necessities confronted by these submitting proposals for lane two. Smaller autos could be provided, a number of launch websites will not be required, and the launch techniques don’t must undergo the identical rigorous qualification course of wanted for lane two.
The launch suppliers can provide what they’re able to offering. There’s an annual onramp provision that permits new suppliers to win contracts, and present suppliers so as to add new launch techniques to its contracts. When a launch car is able to compete, then it is going to have a chance inside the subsequent yr to take action.
This second draft of the RFP has a decreased minimal raise functionality of 1,000 kg to a LEO reference orbit, with the flexibility to hold as much as 6,800 kg over a collection of missions to finish a contract. This enables most of the upcoming new launch autos to compete.
These chosen will obtain indefinite supply, indefinite amount contracts that make them eligible to compete for a pool of round 30 launches over the time period of section three. A majority of these, round 20 missions, can be for the constellations that make up the Area Improvement Company’s new proliferated warfighter house structure.
Lane two is analogous to the present NSSL section two. Lane two suppliers are required to attain certification for launching to a set of reference orbits that symbolize the total wants of the DOD satellite tv for pc missions, together with launching on to geostationary orbit (GEO) and supporting massive payloads.
Different necessities embrace having launch services on each the East and West coasts, being able to help vertical integration if wanted, and giving the federal government perception into the efficiency of the launch autos after they fly for different clients.
The unique draft RFP known as for 2 launch suppliers on this lane, with the highest choice getting 60% of the flights and the opposite 40%, just like the present setup in NSSL section two. The brand new draft consists of three suppliers in lane two. The highest two choices will deal with about 50 missions, nonetheless break up 60%/40% between them. Many of the applications launching spacecraft in lane two will solely want to ensure their satellites can launch on these high two suppliers.
The third-place firm will be capable to fly seven missions, 5 of that are international positioning system (GPS) satellites delivered to medium-Earth orbit (MEO), and two that ship its payloads on to GEO.
The primary GPS mission can be ordered within the second yr of the contract. The small set of missions constrains the money and time that must be spent on mission integration research whereas additionally giving some more durable missions that present the supplier can meet the total necessities. These 5 GPS missions have been contained in lane two for the primary draft of the RFP.
To be eligible to win a lane two contract, an organization wants to offer a reputable plan to certify its launch system by the start of FY2027, however some provisions of the contract encourage the opponents to attain certification earlier than then. These suppliers with plans to be licensed earlier can obtain a “power” when the proposals are evaluated, enhancing its rating.
Those that get licensed later can even lose a few of its potential mission assignments. This lane has a brand new mechanism to assist preserve launches from being delayed by late certification of a launch system. Originally of October every year, the NSSL program will see which of the lane two suppliers have achieved certification and are due to this fact eligible to be awarded missions.
Colonel Pentecost defined “for the primary order yr mission assignments, suppliers have to be licensed by 1 Oct. 2024 to be assigned a mission. If a system will not be flying, these missions is not going to be ordered from that supplier and they’re going to transfer to the opposite lane two launch supplier.” If the third lane two supplier will not be but licensed when its missions are able to be awarded, these flights will go into the pool that’s break up between the highest two suppliers.
For the section three contract, offerors suggest one set of costs that may apply no matter whether or not the corporate wins first, second, or third place. Every lane two supplier is eligible to obtain as much as $100 million per yr to cowl its prices of participation in this system, together with sustaining a number of launch websites, fleet surveillance, establishing safe services, and so forth. These prices can be included within the whole value when the proposals are evaluated.
It’s anticipated that United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, and Blue Origin will all bid for lane two contracts, although it’s hoped that others will bid as nicely. It’s also hoped that with extra suppliers the USSF can hedge in opposition to launch shortage and get higher competitors and innovation in the long term.
This week the NSSL program additionally held an trade day to debate the brand new draft RFP with potential bidders, with plans to conduct one-on-one discussions with these firms subsequent week.
The ultimate RFP is presently focused for launch by September of this yr, with proposals due by December. Contract awards and first-year mission orders would occur in October 2025. As all the time, there’s a chance that some particulars of the RFP will change between the second draft and the ultimate solicitation.
Whatever the particulars of the ultimate RFP, NSSL section three is one other vital step in offering for future nationwide safety launches whereas providing extra alternatives to extra gamers within the house trade.
(Lead picture: Falcon Heavy launching STP-2 from Pad 39A. Credit score: Brady Kenniston for NSF)