Main Engine Cut Off

Space and Missile Systems Center Planning to Buy Two Rideshare Flights Each from Six Small Launchers

The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), Contract Office (PKT), Kirtland AFB, NM intends to award six (6) sole source contract to small launch service providers, as directed by the Industrial Base Council (IBC), in support of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act-directed Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III Funding effort to ensure the timely availability of industrial resources and critical technology items that are essential for national defense.

The scope of each contract will be to procure 2 commercial rideshare launches with Government payloads. Each contract will have a period of performance of 24 months, with launch dates determined by the commercial customer payload schedule of each provider.

Still a long way to go on this, but this has been part of the work the Space Acquisition Council has been doing to try and stabilize small launch providers through the economic instability of recent months. They’re purchasing two rideshare launches from each of the following: AevumAstraX-BOWRocket LabSpace VectorVOX Space (Virgin Orbit).

Buying rideshare launches means there is capacity left on these rockets to be sold off to other customers, as well. All considered, with a final contract amount likely coming in higher than a typical commercially-available ride for these launchers (as we typically see with government launches), plus the ability to sell leftover capacity, it’s a really nice way to bridge the tough time for these companies that the Department of Defense wants to rely on in the future or relies on already.

The makeup of this list is quite interesting to consider. It definitely makes sense to have providers included that are close to operations, like Virgin Orbit and Astra. But I’m wondering about the inclusion of companies that have plenty of funding and flights manifested already, like Rocket Lab, and about the absence of promising-yet-still-somewhat-mysterious companies like ABL and Firefly.