Air Force selects 8 launch companies for future contracts


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Capitalism in space: The Air Force yesterday announced that it has selected eight launch companies as part of a program allowing it to order future launch contracts quickly.

SpaceX, Xbow Launch Systems, Northrop Grumman, Firefly Aerospace, United Launch Alliance, Aevum, Vox Space and Rocket Lab have been selected to provide launch services in the Orbital Services Program-4 [OSP-4] — a $986 million procurement of launch services over nine years. The Air Force announced the winners Oct. 10.

OSP-4 is designed to accommodate small and medium payloads greater than 400 lbs. and providers have to be able to deliver these payloads to orbit within 12 to 24 months after receiving an order. The program is managed by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

…The OSP-4 multi-vendor deal is known as a “multiple-award, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity” contract. The eight companies will be awarded $50,000 as the contract’s minimum guarantee. Under [this arrangement], the Air Force will compete as many as 20 missions among the awardees.

The company list includes every operational rocket company (SpaceX, Northrop Grumann, ULA, Rocket Lab), as well as several in development (Xbow, Firefly, Aevum, Vox). It is interesting that several other developing rocket companies are not included (Blue Origin, Relativity, Vector). Vector has suspended operations because of financial issues, but Relativity and Blue Origin both appear to be moving forward with full financing. Meanwhile, I have until now never heard of Xbow, Aevum, and Vox. One wonders the reasoning behind their selection.

This selection is separate from the Air Force’s big rocket contracting process, where the military says it will very soon pick two companies to launch its big satellites for the next decade.

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4 comments

  • David K

    This is how I assume a separate space force would act. Could it be that the air force is playing nice here so that it doesn’t get broken up? Or are they acting to a long term goal of aiding further commercial and military space development?

  • mkent

    I believe that Vox is the government contracting arm of Virgin Orbit and that Aevum is a small startup trying to develop an air-launched launch vehicle with a hypersonic first stage.

    David K: This is the fourth in a series of similar contracts going back decades. OSP-3 expires on 30 Nov, so a replacement is needed to continue launching.

  • David K

    mkent: Yes but they could have said “SLS or bust”. They instead went with a whole host of options.

  • mkent

    David K: What are you talking about? What does SLS have to do with OSP?

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