USAF Issues RFP for New Launch Vehicles

The U.S. Air Force issued a request for proposals (RFP) last Thursday for a new launch vehicle to handle national security space (NSS) requirements.

“The goal of the EELV acquisition strategy is to leverage commercial launch solutions in order to have at least two domestic, commercial launch service providers that also meet NSS requirements, including the launch of the heaviest and most complex payloads,” the proposal states.

“The Launch Service Agreements (LSAs) facilitate development of at least three EELV Launch System prototypes as early as possible, allowing those launch systems to mature prior to a future selection of two NSS launch service providers for Phase 2 launch service procurements, starting in FY20,” the proposal adds.

Credit: U.S. Air Force

The Air Force want to eliminate the service’s dependence upon Russia’s RD-180 engine, which powers the first stage of ULA’s Atlas V booster. The majority of Atlas V flights carry defense payloads, in addition to civilian government and commercial satellites.

The RFP is a follow-on to propulsion development contracts awarded by the Air Force to Aerojet Rocketdyne, Orbital ATK, SpaceX and ULA. Each propulsion systems was part of “a planned or ongoing industry EELV-class launch system upgrade or development,” the RFP stated.

ULA is developing a new booster called Vulcan to replace both the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. The company plans to choose between Aerojet Rocketdyne and Blue Origin engines to power the first stage.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently announced plans for his BFR booster that could serve the International Space Station, carry cargoes to the moon and Mars, and make suborbital passenger trips between major cities on Earth. The company has been developing advanced Raptor engines for the new rocket.

Orbital ATK also is working on its Next Generation Launcher (NGL), which makes use of existing solid rocket motor technology. The booster will be capable of carying payloads weighing 5,500 to 8,500 kg (12,125 — 18,739 lbs) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and 5,250 to 7,000 kg (11,574 — 15,432 lbs) geostationary equatorial orbit (GEO) from East and West coast launch facilities.