The Space Force's Space and Missile Systems Center recently requested information from giants of the space industry — including ULA and SpaceX — with aims to gather input on how to shape the future of the military's space launch architecture, said an official on Nov. 19, according to an initial report from National Defense Magazine.
Pentagon, Space Force seek industry input on future military launch architecture
The request for information (RFI) comes on the heels of two substantial contracts — awarded in August in lockstep with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) — for the National Security Space Launch service (NSSL), and was sent to both SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.
The new awards place the need for core strategic capability on center-stage, said Director of SMC's launch enterprise Col. Robert Bongiovi during a virtual event administered by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
"Now we have the opportunity to step back and assess and work with our stakeholders to established (sic) what the future of NSSL should be," said Bongiovi, National Defense Magazine reports. "Last week we released a request for information to industry along these lines. If you look at it you'll see we're really interested in where innovative industry is seeing launch going in the future [and] what they're doing to get to that future."
Space Force, US military seeks partnership with space industry
Called the "Request for Information to Support National Security Space Launch Program Planning" document — initially released on Nov. 10 — it seeks crucial information around several key issues, including mobility and logistics, space access, innovative acquisition strategies, digital engineering, strategic process improvements, and security.
The due dates for replies are separated into three distinct rounds, one through three, due on Nov. 24, Dec. 9, and Jan 15, respectively, the document said.
"It is time to build that partnership with industry and with our stakeholders and ... use this launch industry that's the envy of the world to enable our future launch capabilities," said Bongiovi. "What we're really trying to do with the RFI is [say]: 'Here are the things we're thinking about. What are you thinking about?' And try to figure out how we start getting onto roadways that might be parallel, or the same broad pathway that we can leverage."
'60 percent' of NSSL contract launches with ULA
The RFI asks questions about launches more complex than geosynchronous orbit within cislunar space. About whether the service will carry out near-term launches in that region of space, Bongiovi said: "I don't think we're at the position to know both what the demand is, but also ... where industry is going to be and what's the viable way even to consider other orbits if that is what we are asked to do."
In the meantime, the recent NSSL contracts concern launch service orders beginning in the fiscal 2020 year, to continue into 2024.
"We will procure about 60 percent of our launches from United Launch Alliance and 40 percent from SpaceX for the 2020 to 2024 procurement years," said Bongiovi. "That means a launch from about 2022 until 2026 or 2027."
US services to continue missions launches amid COVID-19 crisis
This forthcoming collaboration effort comes as part of a larger goal to distance the U.S. from its reliance on Russian-made R-180 engines, used on Atlas V rockets. Congress has already determined the government will stop using the Russian rocket engine before or during 2022.
The contract will also see the SMC focus on assigning missions for both ULA and SpaceX, in addition to moving forward with early integration studies, added Bongiovi.
Since the early days of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, the service has launched military assets into space six times, Bonviovi noted. These include the Space Force's first minor launch — the NROL-129 — in addition to the GPS Block III satellite. As we move into 2021, we shouldn't be surprised to see the Space Force branch — moving jointly with other services — begin to fill out its space mobility architecture.