One option being considered for NSSL Phase 3 is to create “on-ramps” to allow emerging launch vendors to compete
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force is likely to change how it selects national security launch service providers and how it awards contracts, a program official said. SpaceNews.
The changes would affect the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 3 procurement. United Launch Alliance and SpaceX won the Phase 2 competition in 2020 and their current contracts will be up for competition again in 2024.
NSSL acquires launch services for heavy and medium-lift class national security satellites.
The Phase 3 Sourcing Strategy is still being finalized and will be released in a draft solicitation expected in the second quarter of 2023, Col. Douglas Pentecost, deputy director of Space Force Launch Enterprise, said Jan. 13 in an email.
Compared to Phase 2, where only ULA and SpaceX were selected to launch all five-year national security missions, Phase 3 would create “on ramps” for other players to compete against.
“NSSL’s Phase 3 acquisition strategy is still under development, but seeks to meet warfighter requirements while optimally leveraging ongoing advancements in the ever-growing US commercial launch market. United to better tackle the stimulus challenge,” Pentecost said.
“A two-track contractual approach is being considered,” he said. One would be an IDIQ contract, short for Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity “with an unlimited number of suppliers”.
An IDIQ contract would allow the government to purchase launch services as needed without committing to a specific amount. Pentecost said this vehicle would be used for less complex NSSL launches where there would likely be more competitors. “This allows for an annual ramp-up of new capabilities for the least stressful NSSL missions.”
The second path would be like Phase 2, or an indefinite delivery requirements contract with two vendors selected for the most demanding NSSL assignments.
Launch vendors will be notified of details after the the draft RFP is released, Pentecost said. “This will provide an opportunity for potential vendors to submit clarifying questions that will inform the final NSSL Phase 3 RFP scheduled for summer 2023.”
The two-track approach would address Congressional concerns about the DoD restricting competition. “Some analysts have questioned Space Force’s decision to award only two launch services contracts in NSSL Phase 2,” the Congressional Research Service noted in a statement. report.
If Space Force decides to continue working with only two vendors in Phase 3, CRS said, “Congress may consider directing Space Force to select more than two launch vendors in Phase 3, directing the Force space to examine alternative supply models.”