WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee on June 23 advanced its version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 24-1 after closed deliberations. 

The bill authorizes $844 billion for the Department of Defense, or $2 billion more than the Biden administration’s request.

The committee on Friday released an executive summary of its version of the NDAA. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

Changes to NSSL Phase 3

The SASC strategic forces subcommittee included a provision to add more competitors to the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 3, a multibillion-dollar procurement of launch services projected for 2025 through 2029.

The committee “establishes an additional lane (Lane 2A) two years into Phase 3 of the National Security Space Launch acquisition program to allow for greater competition within the field,” said the executive summary.

This would change the rules that the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command set for the NSSL Phase 3 competition.

According to a draft solicitation released earlier this year, there will be two separate contract types in NSSL Phase 3.

Phase 3 Lane 1 will solicit bids for the more “risk tolerant” missions to low Earth orbit. 

NSSL Phase 3 Lane 2 is modeled after the Phase 2 procurement that United Launch Alliance and SpaceX won in 2020. The Space Force will award five-year contracts to two launch providers capable of flying a full range of missions to the most demanding orbits. 

The SASC proposal to add a Lane 2A two years into the contract would help new entrant companies like Blue Origin that plan to introduce new rockets during the projected timeframe for Phase 3. The language is reminiscent of past efforts by the House Armed Services Committee to add a third provider to the NSSL Phase 2 contract. The Air Force at the time pushed back on these proposals and insisted that only two providers should be selected. 

Other space policy provisions in the SASC bill: 

  • Directs the establishment of transparent regulations for entering into agreements and receiving cost reimbursements for the provision of goods and services to commercial companies conducting space launch activities at Space Force bases.
  • Directs a report on DOD efforts to better integrate space operations with allies and partners.
  • Codifies the Space Force’s role in providing space-based design and tasking of ground and air moving target indicators to U.S. combatant commanders. 
  • Unlike the House Armed Services Committee’s version of the 2024 NDAA, the SASC bill does not include language to establish a Space National Guard.

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...