Updated Nov. 1 with additional comments from U.S. Space Force Col. Doug Pentecost
WASHINGTON — The Space Systems Command on Oct. 31 announced 21 launch missions have been assigned to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX as part of the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 contract the companies won in 2020.
These missions assigned for fiscal year 2024 mark the fifth and final year of the Phase 2 contract. Of the 21 missions, ULA received 11 and SpaceX 10. These missions are projected to launch over the next two to three years.
Over the five years of the Phase 2 contract, the Space Force will have ordered a total of 48 missions — substantially more than the 34 missions originally estimated — although only one has launched so far.
“Under our Phase 2 contract, ULA and SpaceX have been committed partners, and our combined team remains dedicated to delivery of critical assets to our warfighters as we complete this phase of the NSSL program and embark on NSSL Phase 3 starting in FY25,” said Col. Chad Melone, senior materiel leader for mission solutions at the Space Systems Command.
A total of 48 missions in Phase 2
Of the 48 missions assigned for Phase 2, only USSF-67 launched, aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in January 2023. ULA’s first Phase 2 launch will be USSF-51 on an Atlas 5 rocket, a mission projected for no earlier than March 2024.
ULA’s new rocket, Vulcan Centaur, was selected by the Space Force to launch all Phase 2 missions but the vehicle has been beset by delays. Vulcan’s two certification flights are scheduled in the coming months and its first NSSL Phase 2 mission, USSF-106, would fly sometime after both certification launches are completed.
ULA originally won 60% of the Phase 2 missions and SpaceX 40%. Based on these latest assignments, ULA ended up with 54% and SpaceX with 46%.
Col. Doug Pentecost, deputy program executive officer for assured access to space at Space Systems Command, noted that under the 60/40 split, ULA in the fifth year of the contract would have been assigned 13 missions and SpaceX would have gotten eight.
The final 11/10 split took several issues into account, Pentecost said in a statement to SpaceNews.
“The government considered multiple factors in the mission assignment analysis process, including the launch system maturity assessment process, production capability and capacity, and the ability to meet the order year launch demand,” he said. Based on that assessment and in accordance with the terms of the NSSL Phase 2 contract, the Space Force assigned 11 missions to ULA and 10 to SpaceX.
Missions assigned to launch providers
The following 11 missions were assigned to ULA: GPS 3-9, NROL-73, NROL-56, STP-5, SILENTBARKER 2/NROL-118, GPS 3F-1, NROL-100, USSF-95, NROL-109, SDA T2TL-B, and USSF-25.
The following 10 missions were assigned to SpaceX: SDA T1TL-F, SDA T1TR-A, USSF-57, NROL-77, SDA T1TR-E, GPS 3-10, USSF-75, SDA T2TL-A, SDA T2TL-C, and USSF-70.
- The NROL-77, NROL-73, NROL-56, NROL-109, and NROL-100 missions are for the National Reconnaissance Office.
- SDA’s launches are batches of small satellites for the Space Development Agency’s low Earth orbit constellation that includes a Transport Layer of data communications satellites and a Tracking Layer of missile-detection sensors.
- USSF-57 will launch the first of three multibillion-dollar Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared geostationary satellites designed for missile warning.
- SILENTBARKER 2/NROL-118 is a joint NRO and Space Force mission to provide space domain awareness for DoD and the intelligence community.
- USSF-25 will launch the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) nuclear thermal spacecraft.
- USSF-95 will be the first launch of a missile-tracking prototype satellite in medium Earth orbit.
- STP-5 is a mission for the Space Force’s Space Test Program (STP). It will launch two satellites in support of the Department of Defense Strategic Capabilities Office.