WASHINGTON — The Space Force expects the scope of its next phase of major National Security Space Launch contracts to increase by about 50% due to surge demand for military lift services, according to the general who oversees the launch enterprise.

The service awarded contracts to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX in 2020 to launch more than 30 missions scheduled to fly between fiscal 2022 and 2027, a total that is subject to change based on need. Now, as ordering for those launches is set to end after fiscal 2024, the Space Force is preparing for the program’s next bulk launch buy and eyeing a significant increase in planned missions.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy — who serves as program executive for assured access to space, commander of the Space Force’s two major launch ranges and director of range operations at Space Systems Command — told C4ISRNET, a sister publication, the projected growth is driving the service to consider how it can expand its pool of launch providers for the program’s next stage, referred to as NSSL Phase 3. The service released a draft solicitation Feb. 16 and plans to issue a formal call for proposals this summer.

“Our launch demand is increasing,” Purdy said in a Feb. 13 email. “This increased launch tempo gives us flexibility to execute a two-lane approach to Phase 3, thus encouraging more competition.”

Under that approach, the service will establish two launch provider groups, or “lanes.” Lane 1 is for commercial-like missions and small launches and will have room for “an unlimited number of providers,” he said. The service will offer annual opportunities for new companies to compete for these contracts and those providers won’t have to meet the service’s launch certification requirements. Orders for Lane 1 will start in fiscal 2025 and continue through fiscal 2034.

Lane 2, Purdy said, will be modeled off the current contract and geared toward “more stressing” national security missions with unique requirements. Similar to Phase 2, it will be limited to just two companies who are certified to fly military missions. The service will order launches for the second lane from fiscal 2025 through 2029.

The service’s strategy aligns with a push from lawmakers for the Space Force to consider how it can spur more competition for national security launches. Congress included language to this effect in the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, calling on the service to develop a Phase 3 acquisition strategy that recognizes and takes advantage of growth in the commercial launch sector.

The policy legislation also directs the head of Space Systems Command, Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, to provide quarterly updates to lawmakers on its acquisition plans throughout fiscal 2023.

While national security missions are the Space Force’s priority, the service supports civil and commercial missions as well. In 2022, the Space Force executed 57 launches from the Eastern Range in Florida and 16 from its Western Range at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The service is projecting 87 East Coast and 40 West Coast launches this year.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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