Return of Launch Competition Tops U.S. Milspace Procurement Manifest

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WASHINGTON — Two competitive national security launches, the first to be awarded under the U.S. Air Force’s main satellite launching program in 15 years, will be among the Defense Department’s most closely watched space-related procurements this year.

Other notable military space- and missile defense-related contracts expected this year include a missile tracking radar to be deployed in Alaska and a consolidation of operations and maintenance work at the Air Force’s satellite ground stations.

After years of enduring sky-high launch prices and resulting congressional criticism, the Air Force is introducing competition into its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, whose current and sole provider is United Launch Alliance of Denver.

The first launch up for grabs is a National Reconnaissance Office mission, the award of which had been expected in the first quarter of this year, according to Christina Greer, a spokeswoman for Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles. A second competitive contract award for an unspecified mission was expected during the fourth quarter, she said.

However, Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, the only viable challenger to ULA for the contracts, is still awaiting Air Force certification to launch national security missions, which is now expected to come by the middle of the year. Meanwhile, the EELV program is embroiled in a lawsuit in which SpaceX is challenging a sole-source award of 36 rocket cores to ULA.

The timetable for the two awards is now unclear. Documents filed in January as part of the federal court case, which appears headed to mediation, say the Air Force has deferred decisions on certain unspecified launches.

Industry sources say the first of those competitive launches could be worth $100 million to $150 million to the winner.

The Air Force also has $220 million budgeted this year for development work on a new rocket engine to replace the Russian-built RD-180 that currently powers ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket, but the service has yet to say how that money will be spent.

A higher-value but lower-profile program will consolidate three contracts to run the Air Force’s sprawling satellite control network. The Consolidated Air Force Satellite Control Network Modifications, Maintenance and Operations (CAMMO) contract, one of several space-related consolidation efforts in the works, could be worth $500 million to $600 million over seven and a half years.

CAMMO will combine the Air Force Satellite Control Network Contract, currently held by Honeywell Technology Solutions Inc. of Columbia, Maryland; the Engineering Development and Sustainment contract, now held by Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions of Herndon, Virginia; and the Network Space Operations and Maintenance contract, held by Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Florida. Those contracts cover most of the activities associated with operating a large portion of the Air Force’s satellite fleet, including data uplink and downlink, command and control, communications, software and testing.

Among the companies and teams likely to bid on CAMMO are: L-3 Defense Solutions of Reston, Virginia, working with Harris IT Services of Dulles, Virginia, and five others; Honeywell Technology Solutions; Lockheed Martin; and Exelis Information Systems Inc. of McLean, Virginia. The contract award is expected during the fourth quarter of 2015.

Two other contract awards expected this year are holdovers from 2014. The first is a GPS systems engineering and integration contract that was delayed because of a bid protest. That contract is now expected in the second quarter of 2015, Greer said.

The other is the Combined Orbital Operations Logistics Sustainment, or COOLS, contract, which supports the Air Force’s Milstar, Advanced Extremely High Frequency and Defense Satellite Communications System programs. The Air Force announced in December 2013 it was pursuing a sole-source COOLS contract with Sunnyvale, California-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the prime contractor on all three satellite programs. The award, worth about $35 million, is expected in the second quarter of 2015, Greer said.

Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency is expected to make a decision this spring on full rate production of the Standard Missile-3 Block 1B interceptor, which is built by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Arizona. The ensuing contract award could be worth as much as $3 billion.

The MDA also is expected to make a contract award by the end of the year on a Long Range Discrimination Radar to be stationed in Alaska to track missiles launched from North Korea. Possible contenders for the contract include Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts, Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems of Linthicum, Maryland, Boeing Defense, Space and Security of St. Louis, and Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training of Moorestown, New Jersey