A Falcon Heavy liftoff (USSF-67 Mission). Credits: SpaceX

Space Force Awards 12 National Security Missions to SpaceX and ULA

Space Force assigns 12 National Security Missions to SpaceX and ULA, boosting collaboration with private industries. Launches set to begin in 2025

The U.S. Space Force Launch Procurement Office announced on June 8 that SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have been assigned an additional 12 missions under the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 contract.

A Falcon Heavy liftoff (USSF-67 Mission). Credits: SpaceX
Falcon Heavy lifting off HLC-39A, carrying the USSF-67 Mission to Orbit. Credits: SpaceX

These missions are expected to commence in 2025, showcasing the continued collaboration between the Space Force and the private aerospace companies.


Advertisement

Launch Assignment

SpaceX has been designated for five Space Development Agency (SDA) launches to low Earth orbit, as well as a highly classified mission called USSF-31, which falls under the purview of the U.S. Space Force.

The SDA launches are a crucial component of the agency’s ambitious plan to deploy a vast constellation of communication and missile-tracking sensor satellites. These satellites will be launched in batches, bolstering the nation’s capabilities in space.

Artist’s concept of SDA's Mesh Network. Credits: Space Development Agency
Artist’s concept of SDA’s Mesh Network. Credits: Space Development Agency

ULA, on the other hand, has been assigned two SDA launches, two missions for the National Reconnaissance Office (NROL-64 and NROL-83), the eighth Global Positioning System (GPS-3), and the classified mission USSF-114, commissioned by the U.S. Space Force.

The National Reconnaissance Office missions are obviously of particular significance, as they involve the deployment of advanced reconnaissance satellites that play a vital role in national security.

Vulcan Centaur artist’s rendering. Credits: ULA
Vulcan Centaur artist’s rendering. Credits: ULA

The NSSL program, overseen by the Space Systems Command’s program executive office for assured access to space, previously awarded ULA and SpaceX lucrative five-year contracts in 2020.

These contracts aimed to enable the companies to launch up to 40 missions collectively. Following the award, ULA secured the majority of the missions, with a 60% share, while SpaceX obtained the remaining 40%.

However, it is worth noting that only one NSSL mission under the Phase 2 contract has been launched thus far, which took place in January and was successfully executed by SpaceX.

Falcon Heavy USSF-67
27 Merlin 1D propelling Falcon Heavy and the USSF-67 Mission to Orbit on January 2023. Credits: SpaceX

Furthermore, SpaceX conducted a separate mission for the Space Development Agency in April, although it was acquired as a commercial launch contract rather than falling under the NSSL program.


Advertisement

Awaiting the Launch of Vulcan

Previously, ULA had initially planned to carry out its first NSSL Phase 2 mission later this year. However, this timeline now appears unlikely due to the delayed debut of the company’s Vulcan Centaur rocket.

In particular, the certification process for Vulcan Centaur requires the successful completion of two orbital missions. Recently, on June 7, ULA accomplished an essential milestone by conducting a static-fire test for Vulcan Centaur, bringing it closer to its inaugural launch.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Certification-1 (Cert-1) rocket performs the Flight Readiness Firing FRF) at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in preparation for the inaugural flight. Close-up view on Vulcan Booster stage's two BE-4 engines firing during the FRF.
Vulcan first stage’s BE-4 engines as seen during the recent Static Fire. Credits: ULA

Thus far, ULA has been assigned a total of 15 missions, while SpaceX has been designated for 12 missions under the Phase 2 contract. Recognizing the consistent excellence demonstrated by both companies, Col. Chad Melone, chief of the launch procurement and integration division at Space Systems Command, expressed confidence in their ability to maintain 100% success rate for the NSSL missions:

“We partner closely with our launch service providers and mission customers to deliver critical payloads to orbit precisely, on-time and without failure. ULA and SpaceX continue to provide outstanding launch services with their reliable and innovative launch systems, and we are confident in their ability to maintain the unprecedented 100 percent program success for the NSSL missions assigned for launch in FY25.”

Col. Chad Melone, Chief of the Launch Procurement and Integration Division at Space Systems Command

Advertisement

GAO Report on NSSL

In a report released on June 8, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted that despite concerns regarding delays with Vulcan, the NSSL program office has continued to order launch services from ULA and SpaceX.

In fact, according to the GAO, ULA experienced delays in the first certification flight of the Vulcan launch system due to “challenges associated with the BE-4 engine and a delayed commercial payload. These setbacks resulted in a delay of nearly two years from the original schedule.

An excerpt of GAO's Report on NSSL Program. Credits: GAO
An excerpt of GAO’s Report on NSSL Program. Credits: GAO

However, the Phase 2 contract includes provisions that allow for mission reassignment to the other provider in the event that Vulcan becomes unavailable for future missions. This flexibility ensures that the NSSL program can adapt and maintain operational efficiency in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

Furthermore, by effectively allocating these 12 additional Missions to SpaceX and ULA, the U.S. Space Force solidifies its partnership with these prominent industry leaders, leveraging their expertise to enhance national security and push the boundaries of Space Exploration.


Advertisement

Share this article:
Edoardo Giammarino

Edoardo Giammarino

Co-Founder & Administrator. Drummer and Red Cross Volunteer, born in 1997. I like analog photography and videomaking. Firmly music-addicted.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *