WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force launch procurement office on June 8 announced an additional 12 missions assigned to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance under the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 contract.

The 12 missions are projected to start launching in 2025.

SpaceX was assigned five Space Development Agency (SDA) launches to low Earth orbit and a U.S. Space Force classified mission, USSF-31.

SDA is building a large constellation of communications and missile-tracking sensor satellites that will be launched in batches. 

ULA was assigned two SDA launches; two National Reconnaissance Office missions, NROL-64 and NROL-83; the eighth Global Positioning System GPS 3; and the U.S. Space Force USSF-114 classified mission. 

The Space Systems Command’s program executive office for assured access to space, which oversees the NSSL program, in 2020 awarded ULA and SpaceX five-year contracts to launch as many as 40 missions. ULA won 60% of the missions and SpaceX 40%. 

To date, only one NSSL mission under the Phase 2 contract has been launched: the USSF-67 mission flown by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy in January. SpaceX also launched a mission in April for the Space Development Agency but that was purchased as a commercial launch contract, not under NSSL. 

Waiting for Vulcan

ULA was expected to launch its first NSSL Phase 2 mission later this year but that now appears unlikely as the company’s Vulcan Centaur rocket has yet to perform its first flight. Vulcan has to launch two successful orbital missions to get certified for NSSL. 

On June 7 ULA completed Vulcan Centaur’s static-fire test, one of the final milestones before the vehicle’s first launch.

To date, ULA has been assigned 15 missions and SpaceX 12 missions under the Phase 2 contract. 

“ULA and SpaceX continue to provide outstanding launch services with their reliable and innovative launch systems, and we are confident in their ability to maintain the unprecedented 100 percent program success for the NSSL missions assigned for launch in Fiscal Year 2025.” said Col. Chad Melone, chief of the launch procurement and integration division at Space Systems Command.  

GAO’s take on NSSL

In a report released June 8, the Government Accountability Office noted that the NSSL program office continues to order launch services from ULA and SpaceX amid concerns about Vulcan’s delays. 

“ULA delayed the first certification flight of the Vulcan launch system … to accommodate challenges with the BE-4 engine and a delayed commercial payload, nearly two years later than originally planned,” said GAO. “In the event that Vulcan is unavailable for future missions, program officials stated that the Phase 2 contract allows for the ability to reassign missions to the other provider.”

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...