Aevum launch services artist concept. Credit: Aevumspace

WASHINGTON — The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center on Monday awarded a $4.9 million contract to space startup Aevum to lift experimental satellites to low Earth orbit.

The Agile Small Launch Operational Normalizer (ASLON)-45 space lift mission had been originally awarded to Vector Launch Aug. 7. But Vector formally withdrew Aug. 26 in the wake of financial difficulties that forced the company to suspend operations and halt development of its Vector-R small launch vehicle.

The Rocket Systems Launch Program — part of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise — used a Federal Acquisition Regulation “simplified acquisition procedure” to expedite another agreement with a different contractor, the Air Force said in a news release. Aevum’s contract is $1.5 million higher than the one that had been awarded to Vector.

The ASLON-45 mission will support the Department of Defense Space Test Program and other government agencies.

“We re-awarded this mission in just 14 days, with no impact to launch or mission” said Lt Col Ryan Rose, small launch and targets division chief at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Air Force issued a request for information Dec. 14, 2018, for the Agile Small Launch Operational Normalizer (ASLON). Responses were due Jan. 18.

The ASLON-45 space vehicle manifest will consist of multiple 3U and larger U.S. government cubesats to low Earth orbit (LEO) at a 45 degree inclination. The vendor must provide all required dispensers and perform all payload integration and launch operations.

This will be the first Air Force mission for Aevum and will be launched from Cecil Air and Space Port in Jacksonville, Florida. The initial launch of the ASLON-45 mission is scheduled for the third quarter of 2021.

Aevum is an Alabama-based startup that claims it can launch small payloads every three hours using rockets carried by a fully autonomous unmanned aircraft. The Air Force on Aug. 19 awarded Aevum a small business innovation research (SBIR) Phase I contract for its autonomous launch and space logistics service.

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...