Under the Air Force Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3) contract, Northrop Grumman provides space launch services with vehicles such as the Minotaur 4 rocket. Credit: Northrop Grumman

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin Corp., Orbital Sciences Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will provide launch services for the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies under contracts with a potential combined value of $900 million, the Pentagon announced Dec. 3.

The Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) is managed by the U.S. Air Force and is used to launch small satellites as well as suborbital payloads. Work under the indefinite-quantity, indefinite-delivery contracts is expected to be completed by Nov. 29, 2017, the Pentagon said.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital is the incumbent on the RSLP program and has launched several small satellites in recent years aboard a rocket dubbed Minotaur, which is based in part on excess missile hardware.

SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., a relative newcomer to the launch industry, has had success winning NASA and commercial contracts and has been seeking entrée into the defense market. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 medium-class rocket has notched multiple successful launches to date.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver has resurrected a long-shelved rocket dubbed Athena for the RSLP effort. Solid-rocket motor maker ATK Space Systems of Magna, Utah, is Lockheed’s primary partner on the Athena program.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...