The Falcon Heavy rocket for the STP-2 mission in the hangar prior to rolling out to Launch Complex 39A. Credit: SpaceX

WASHINGTON — The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise is requesting industry bids for the Orbital Services Program-4.

Proposals are due Aug. 29. OSP-4 is managed by the Rocket Systems Launch Program Office, which plans to award a multi-vendor indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract by the end of the year with an opportunity to on-ramp new providers in future years, the Air Force said in a news release.

OSP-4 is designed to accommodate payloads greater than 400 lbs. The Air Force projects it will procure about 20 missions over nine years. One of the requirements is that launch providers be ready to fly within 12 to 24 months from task order award.

OSP-4 is a follow-on to the OSP-3 contract that is set to expire in November.

The Air Force selected contractors for OSP-3 in 2012 but the program got off to a slow start as a result of low demand. It also suffered a setback due to issues with the development of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which was awarded the STP-2 mission in 2012, with initial plans to launch in 2015. STP-2 was successfully launched with 24 satellites aboard the Falcon Heavy on June 25, 2019, including NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration payloads.

SpaceX was one of three companies that received OSP-3 IDIQ contracts. The others were Orbital Sciences Corp (later Orbital ATK, then Northrop Grumman) and Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin withdrew from the program in 2016 before it was awarded any missions.

SpaceX launched the DSCOVR and STP-2 missions. Northrop Grumman was awarded four missions on task orders that will launch over the next two years, including three from the National Reconnaissance Office and one from the Air Force: NROL-111, NROL-129, NROL-174, and AFMC-1

Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise, said in a statement that the OSP-4 program is intended to give the government options to launch missions as needs emerge. “Contracts must be flexible and responsive,” he said. “The program balances technology, mission risk, and schedule while leveraging rapidly evolving market forces to cultivate a resilient and affordable launch capability for U.S. government needs.”

Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief of the Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, said Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems later this year will launch a National Reconnaissance Office payload using a Minotaur launch vehicle. “We believe OSP-4 will be successful as a showcase for industry innovation and a gateway to even more affordable space launch,” said Rose.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...