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.
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Trump Administration Objects to Defense Bill Provisions on Space Corps, EELV Development


The Trump Administration and the House Armed Services Committee are on a collision course over four space- and rocket-related provisions in the fNational Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018).

Specifically, the administration is objecting to the following provisions:

  • the establishment of a separate space corps within the U.S. Air Force (USAF);
  • limitations on the funding of new rocket engines for the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program;
  • a prohibition on the Pentagon procurement of transponder services on commercial satellites launched on Russian rockets; and,
  • requirements that the Defense Department find multiple suppliers for individual components of solid rocket missile systems.

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US Air Force Releases RFP for STP-3 Mission

USAF_Space_Missile_Systems_CenterLOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USAF PR) — The Air Force released a Request for Proposal for an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Service supporting the Space Test Program (STP) 3 mission scheduled to launch in June 2019. The draft RFP was released on Aug. 19 to obtain industry feedback to inform the final RFP. After extensive industry engagements, the final RFP was released on Sept. 29 with proposals due back to the Air Force no later than Dec. 2 in accordance with the solicitation instructions.

The Air Force will award a firm-fixed price contract that will provide the government with a total launch solution including launch vehicle production, mission integration and launch operations for the STP-3 mission. The Air Force’s acquisition strategy for this solicitation achieves a balance between mission success/operational needs, and lowering launch costs, through reintroducing competition for National Security Space missions.

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DOD Assessing Worldwide Launch Market to Inform New Acquisition Strategy

DOD_logoEvolved Expendable Launch Vehicle:
DOD Is Assessing Data on Worldwide Launch Market to Inform New Acquisition Strategy
Full Report (PDF)

Government Accountability Office
GAO-16-661R
Published: Jul 22, 2016

What GAO Found

Five countries outside of the United States have operational space launch capabilities: the European Union, Russia, India, Japan, and China. Most of these countries each primarily depend on a single launch provider for launches of a specific capability within their country to meet their civil government and military launch requirements. The United States is unique in that it relies on more than two launch providers–including United Launch Alliance, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and Orbital ATK — with some overlapping capabilities to meet its own civil and military needs.

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RiskIt: NASA’s High Risk Commercial Cargo Strategy

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

Commercial Cargo’s Lower Costs Brought Higher Risks

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In October 2014, NASA engineers were deeply worried about Orbital Sciences Corporation’s upcoming Orb-3 commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

An Antares booster was set to send a Cygnus cargo ship loaded with 2,215 kg (4,883 lb) of supplies to astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory. It would be the third of eight Cygnus flights to the station under a Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract worth $1.9 billion.

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USAF Testimony on Military Space Launches Before Senate Armed Services Committee

Capitol Building
PRESENTATION TO THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE

UNITED STATES SENATE

Subject: Military Space Launch

Witnesses: Honorable Frank Kendall III
Under Secretary of Defense for
Acquisition, Technology and Logistics

Honorable Deborah Lee James
Secretary of the Air Force

JANUARY 27, 2016

Chairman McCain, Ranking Member Reed, and distinguished Members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to discuss how we deliver national security space capabilities to the nation’s warfighters and intelligence community (IC). These capabilities provide our nation decisive advantage in situational awareness, precision navigation and targeting, and command and control, and without assured access to space via reliable launch services, that advantage would be at risk.

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Orbital ATK Wins Air Force Propulsion Contract

orbital_ATK_logoDULLES, Va., January 14, 2016 (Orbital ATK) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, announced today it was awarded a $47 million contract from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Systems Directorate for the development of a solid rocket propulsion system prototype to support the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program for national security space missions. The Air Force award includes options for additional scope, valued at up to $133 million. The company will also contribute additional development funds to the program.

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ULA Concludes Successful Year of Launches

Atlas V launches Cygnus to the International Space Station. (Credit: ULA)
Atlas V launches Cygnus to the International Space Station. (Credit: ULA)

CENTENNIAL, Colo., (ULA PR) – After another year with 100 percent mission success, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) team capped off the year with the launch of the OA-4 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 6 and prepares for its 10th anniversary and highest operations Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) tempo to date in 2016.

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ULA, USAF Work to Improve Launch Processing & Scheduling

United Launch Alliance transports a five-story stack of rocket hardware approximately six miles from the Delta Operations Center to the Vertical Integration Facility utilizing Off-site Vertical Integration. (Credit: ULA)
United Launch Alliance transports a five-story stack of rocket hardware approximately six miles from the Delta Operations Center to the Vertical Integration Facility utilizing Off-site Vertical Integration. (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., Aug. 25, 2015 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the U.S. Air Force have demonstrated a commitment to innovation and continuous improvement through implementation of Off-site Vertical Integration (OVI) of several structural elements and the Centaur upper stage for the Atlas V launch vehicle. OVI significantly reduces the number of lifting operations performed at the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Cape Canaveral, taking them off the critical path and allowing for reduced time between launches.  Relocating these operations to the Delta Operations Center (DOC), an indoor facility, also mitigates risk of weather-related processing delays.

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USAF to Phase Out Subsidy to ULA

A transporter for oversize loads delivers the port, or left, booster for the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy for Exploration Flight Test-1 into the Horizontal Integration Facility, or HIF, on May 7. The port booster joins the other two boosters of the Delta IV Heavy already in the HIF. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
A transporter for oversize loads delivers the port, or left, booster for the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy for Exploration Flight Test-1 into the Horizontal Integration Facility, or HIF, on May 7. The port booster joins the other two boosters of the Delta IV Heavy already in the HIF. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

The U.S. Air Force said on Wednesday it would phase out a major subsidy it pays United Launch Alliance (ULA)

Air Force Space Command Commander General John Hyten said acquisition officials were working on a plan to to phase out the infrastructure support contract, which he said was initially put in place to protect “a very fragile industrial base.”

He said it was not possible to have a fair competition with the contracts in place, backing an argument often made by privately-held Space Exploration Technologies, which is vying for some of the launch contracts now carried out by ULA.

In prepared testimony between the House Armed Services Committee last week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell called for an end to the contract.

Eliminate payments—more properly called subsidies—under the EELV Launch Capability (ELC) contract line items that exclusively support the incumbent provider and properly account for such payments for any competitive solicitations in the interim to ensure a fair and level playing field, especially since these funds do not contribute to the true nature of assured access to space. The Department and this Committee have called fo r real, meaningful competition. That means eliminating the unfairness. All we seek is the right to compete in a fair competition. Just like reliance on the RD-180 engine, it is time for these subsidy payments to the incumbent to come to an end.

Through the EELV Launch Capability, initially referred to as “assured access to space” payments, the U.S. Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) pay ULA approximately $1 billion per year through distinct cost-plus-incentive-fee contract line items. These payments cover most of ULA’s fixed costs — for example, launch infrastructure, systems engineering and program management, launch operations, mission integration, base and range support costs, transportation costs, capital depreciation, and non-recurring engineering to name a few — for “up to eight launches” per year. These payments are in addition to the firm-fixed-price that ULA charges for EELV Launch Services (ELS) for each launch ordered through the block buy contract.

Details of SpaceX’s Appeal of Air Force’s ULA Bulk Buy

Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has filed a 36-page appeal of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to award a 36-core launch vehicle contract to United Launch Alliance. The company is seeking to set aside the contract and open 22 single-core launches to competition for which it claims it is qualified to bid on.

You can download the full lawsuit: 1_14-cv-00354-SGB. I’ve excerpted key portions of the lawsuit below.

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McCain Seeks Investigation into ULA Bulk Buy Contract

John McCain
John McCain

WASHINGTON, D.C. ­(Senator McCain PR) – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today sent two letters regarding the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program – a vital $70 billion national security space-launch program that, without competition, has been plagued by exponential cost growth and schedule delays.

The first letter is to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James requesting additional information about her recent testimony regarding the EELV program before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 10, 2014, and conveying concern about the apparently incomplete and incorrect nature of some of that testimony.

The second letter is to the Department of Defense Inspector General Jon T. Rymer requesting that his office investigate recent developments regarding the EELV program.

Both letters are below.

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ATK Gets $178 Million Contract to Support ULA’s Launch Vehicles

Delta IV lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Credit: Ben Cooper, United Launch Alliance)
Delta IV lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Credit: Ben Cooper, United Launch Alliance)

ARLINGTON, Va., April 16, 2014 (ATL PR) — ATK has reached agreement on a $178 million contract award as part of the Air Force’s Phase 1 Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) buy from United Launch Alliance (ULA). The order value includes hardware for both of the current United States Air Force EELV launch vehicles, the Atlas V and Delta IV. The initial contracting period includes large composite structures with deliveries commencing in AFY14 and continuing into early AFY18. The option period includes hardware deliveries in AFY17 through AFY19.

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Senators Want USAF to Compete More Launches

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, Cape Canaveral, Florida.  (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Space News reports that seven U.S. Senators are pushing to open more U.S. Air Force launches to competition from SpaceX and other providers:

In an April 1 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the senators said the decision to shrink the number of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle missions eligible for competition to seven from 14 should be “immediately reviewed.”

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ORBITEC Tests New Vision Rocket Engine

ORBITEC Vision rocket engine. (Credit: ORBITEC)

Madison, Wisc. (ORBITEC PR) — Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC™) recently conducted several key rocket engine technology demonstrations at its large engine test facility in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Under observation by representatives from both NASA and the US Air Force, ORBITEC successfully completed a series of tests on its Vision flight rocket engine that enhances the maturation of ORBITEC’s advanced technology acoustic igniter , vortex/cold wall combustion chamber, and carbon-carbon lightweight nozzle extension technologies. The Vision engine will be flight-demonstrated later this year launched out of Mojave, CA.

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