SpaceX, a Hawthorne, California-based space launch service provider and equipment maker, has been doing well lately after successfully sending NASA astronauts back to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) last week,media reported. The company, known for its reusable first-stage rocket boosters, has made successful progress in an industry known for its uncertain development schedules and huge entry costs. Now, another of SpaceX’s operating segments, the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) market, has won a major victory.
The company won the U.S. Air Force launch contract by beating rivals Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman.
SpaceX’s key victory was a key change in U.S. law that banned any rocket using a Russian-made engine from being used for a U.S. Air Force-ordered launch. The change, introduced in 2017 through fiscal 2017, the National Defense Authorization Act, s. 1602(c) (2), prevents the Air Force from using any such engines after 2022.
Friday’s news relates to the Air Force’s second phase of the national security launch contract, which will cover launches that begin in 2022 and end in 2024. To that end, the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and the National Reconnaissance Agency (NRO) on Friday awarded contracts to ULA and SpaceX, with a cumulative value of $653 million for launch service support and contracts for fiscal 2022.
SpaceX received a $316 million contract that includes launch service support and contract mission orders. In fiscal year 2022, SpaceX will launch only one mission for the U.S. Air Force, known as the USSF-67. It is not yet certain which launch vehicle the company will use in the launch, and the choice of launch vehicle for national security will be determined by several factors in addition to the weight of the mission payload.
The Air Force has 12 orbits with different requirements for the apogee, perigee, quality and inclination of launch vehicles, which the launch vehicle must meet in order to be certified for NSSL missions. Of the five U.S.-made launch vehicles currently in the test, design and evaluation phase, which are intended to target all of these orbits, only SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has successfully carried out the mission. In addition to Falcon Heavy, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, Northrop Grumman’s OmegA and OmegA Heavy, and ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicles are all designed to meet the military’s launch requirements.