WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force should not delay the selection of national security space launch providers scheduled for later this year, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said April 7.

“It is still my position that we should not delay that decision,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters during a conference call.

The Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center is reviewing bids from United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman. The four launch providers are competing for two five-year contracts to be awarded in mid-2020 for national security space launch services. SMC said that timeline is still in place but might be reconsidered if launch companies are unable to complete the development of their new rockets due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Smith said he would encourage SMC to stick to the schedule as much as possible as a delay would impact the finances of companies that are already hurting from the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

“I think it’s really important that we move forward and stick to the schedule,” said Smith. “The companies have clarity on what’s expected of them.”

As the space industry prepares for a slowdown in commercial business and venture funding because of the pandemic, winning military launch contracts will be hugely consequential not only for the large space companies but also for their smaller subcontractors that are more financially stressed.

“Our industrial base is going to be massively stressed,” said Smith. “We are going to have to work in a very creative and aggressive fashion to try to protect our industrial base in a broader way, without question.”

Smith said a lot of work “needs to be done with our large contractors to make sure small and medium size companies can survive.”

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...