The U.S. Space Force's acquisition command awarded SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) contracts to deploy 12 new satellite payloads into orbit. These contracts are intended for national security missions. The Space Force received $1 billion from Congress in Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 program to fund these missions. Even though the contracts are funded with FY23 budget, the actual launches are scheduled for 2025 because NSSL plans missions two years in advance. ULA and SpaceX secured the NSSL Phase 2 awards in 2020 through an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract covering all Space Force and NRO launches from 2022 through 2027. While the launches are evenly split between the two companies, ULA was awarded 60% more of the funding, with SpaceX receiving 40%. The exact amount paid to each company has not yet been revealed. The specific launch assignments are divided in half – SpaceX will launch six missions and ULA will launch the other six.
The satellites that will be launched by the companies include: two spy satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO); two classified Space Force satellites known as USSF-31 and USSF-114; seven satellites will be sent to low Earth orbit to support the Space Development Agency's (SDA) data relay network and its missile warning/missile tracking constellation; also the launch of the U.S. Space Force’s eighth upgraded GPS III navigation satellite.
SpaceX was assigned five Space Development Agency launches to low Earth orbit and the USSF-31 mission. ULA was assigned two SDA launches; two NRO missions, NROL-64 and NROL-83; the GPS 3; and the USSF-114 mission.
ULA is still developing its new Vulcan Centaur rocket which has experienced delays. The company needs to successfully complete two orbital flight tests to qualify for the NSSL launches, with the first demonstration flight test planned before the year ends, no earlier than July 2023. This week, ULA performed the first static-fire Vulcan engine test which brings pre-flight testing to "98% complete" before the first-ever lift off.
“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,” stated Col. Chad Melone, SSC’s chief of the Launch Procurement and Integration Division, in a press release.
“The Space Force’s formidable record of 97 consecutive successful NSSL launches to date is one of the most effective tools we can employ to face the pacing challenge. With this unwavering commitment to maintaining the high ground in the space domain, we send a powerful message to our strategic competitors that we are determined to protect our nation and allies," stated Major General Stephen Purdy. "Our ongoing commitment to successfully launch our secure communications, GPS, and space awareness satellites, and place them into their orbits, continues to provide our warfighters and nation’s decision-makers with the assets and vital information they need every day to stay ahead of and deter adversarial forces.”
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Featured Images Source: SpaceX & ULA
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.