House Armed Services chairman calls on Space Force to change the way it buys launch services

House Armed Services chairman calls on Space Force to change the way it buys launch services

House Armed Services chairman calls on Space Force to change the way it buys launch services

Chairman’s mark raises concerns about creating opportunities for new players to participate in National Security Space Launch Program

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

Smith’s version of the NDAA, or chairman’s mark, is scheduled for June 20, and the full committee will mark the bill on June 22.

The chairman’s mark raises concerns Smith has previously expressed on creating opportunities for new players to participate in the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program. The HASC leader was critical of the two-vendor model preferred by the Space Force, which in 2020 awarded the United Launch Alliance and SpaceX five-year NSSL Phase 2 contracts to jointly launch as many as 35 NSSL missions.

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

According to a draft of the chairman’s mark, a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews.

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

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

Rather than limiting launches to the two selected providers, as in Phase 2, Smith suggests adding options to add launch providers and launch systems during the Phase 3 performance period, allowing the military to take advantage of emerging technologies in areas such as transportation. in space, logistics and on-orbit service.

The bill also recommends that the Space Force purchase launch services from commercial vehicles that can perform missions beyond the nine reference Earth orbits required for Phase 2 of the NSSL program. The Space Force in Phase 3, the chairman says, should include vehicles with high-quality upper stairs, fairings with payloads that exceed current launch requirements, and vehicles with greater heavy lift capacity.

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

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

At a hearing in April, Smith urged John “Jay” Raymond that Chief of Space Operations General John “Jay” Raymond shed light on the Space Force’s future plans to purchase space launch services. Raymond said the Space Force might consider working with more than two companies,

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