Military Smallsat Launch Contracts Withdrawn, Future Remains Uncertain

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

Easy come, uneasy go.

Last month, the Department of Defense announced it would award two rideshare launch contracts apiece to Aevum, Astra, Rocket Lab, Space Vector, X-BOW and Virgin Orbit’s subsidiary VOX Space.

Earlier this month, however, the contract awards were withdrawn so the $116 million in funding could be used for other priorities. The money came from the Defense Production Act, which is designed to help companies struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

C4ISRnet quotes Will Roper, Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, as saying the contracts could be awarded again.

“My hope is that whenever there’s new [Defense Production Act] Title 3 funding or when resource frees up due to other efforts not executing as planned, that those [contracts] are the first to go back into the hopper,” Roper told reporters Tuesday.

“If I were asked today to put in one new Title 3 initiative, it’s small launch because I think it’s going to be an amazing industry base for this country, and if properly influenced, my military mission can be highly disruptive in future war fighting, especially if satellites can be put up in a very responsive way that changes the calculus for holding space assets at risk.”

Of the six companies, only Rocket Lab has launched satellites into orbit. Astra has failed in several launch attempts. The maiden flight of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne failed in late May.

Aevum, Space Vector and X-BOW have not made any orbital launch attempts.