House Armed Services chairman asks Space Force to change how it buys launch services

President’s brand raises concerns about creating opportunities for new players to participate in national security space launch program

WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) In a draft National Defense Authorization Act of 2023, calls for changes in the procurement of military launch services, calling on the Space Force to replace the current two-vendor strategy with an open competition model.

Smith’s version of the NDAA, or President’s Mark, is expected to be released on June 20, and the Committee of the Whole will annotate the bill on June 22.

President’s mark raises Smith’s concerns expressed previously on creating opportunities for new players to participate in the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program. The HASC leader criticized the two-vendor model favored by the Space Force, which in 2020 awarded United Launch Alliance and SpaceX five-year NSSL Phase 2 contracts to collectively launch up to 35 NSSL missions.

The NDAA 2023 language urges the Space Force to consider alternate procurement approaches in Phase 3 of the NSSL program in 2024 so that more than two companies can win launch contracts.

“Congress feels that the procurement approach for Phase 3 of the National Security Space Launch Program should take into account changes in the launch industry and planned Space Force architectures,” according to a release. Preliminary of the President’s Mark, a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews.

The Space Force should “explore new and innovative acquisition approaches to take advantage of launch competition in the commercial market,” the bill says.

With more companies competing in the commercial launch market, the bill says the Department of Defense should “examine all possible options for awarding launch contracts during the period covered by the phase, including bulk purchases, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity or a hybrid approach”. .”

Rather than limiting launches to the two selected vendors, as in Phase 2, Smith suggests including options to add launch vendors and launch systems during the Phase 3 runtime so that the military can take advantage of emerging technologies in areas such as space transportation. , logistics and maintenance in orbit.

The bill also recommends that the Space Force purchase launch services from commercial vehicles capable of performing missions beyond the nine reference Earth orbits required for Phase 2 of the NSSL program. Space Force in Phase 3, according to the President’s Mark, should include vehicles with high-performance upper stages, payload fairings that exceed current launch requirements, and vehicles with increased heavy-lift capability.

The HASC bill requires the Space Force to provide quarterly updates to congressional committees on Phase 3 acquisition strategy.

If the HASC provisions become law, they would likely help Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space company based in Smith’s home state. The company, which unsuccessfully competed for an NSSL Phase 2 launch services supply contract, is developing New Glenn, a huge rocket with a much larger payload fairing than current launch vehicles, which is expected to have an advanced upper stage to reach high-energy orbits.

During a hearing in April, Smith pressed Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond to shed some light on the Space Force’s future plans to purchase space launch services. Raymond said the Space Force could consider working with more than two companies,

During the hearing, Smith said: “There are so many companies, certainly the big ones that we’ve heard about, SpaceX, Blue Origin and others, but probably a dozen more that are smaller. And if we can encourage that competition, I think we can get a better product at a better price, so I want to make sure we do that.

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