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By Linda Strine (with contributions from Layla Bryant, Toby Cavallari, and Jane Sobota) , Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise
/ Published March 13, 2020
001The fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-5) satellite from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center successfully lifts off at 6:13 a.m. EST from Launch Complex-41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo/Van De Ha)
A fully functional Launch Abort System (LAS) with a test version of Orion attached, launches on NASA’s Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) atop a Northrop Grumman provided booster on July 2, 2019, at 7 a.m. EDT, from Launch Pad 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. During AA-2, the booster will send the LAS and Orion to an altitude of 31,000 feet, traveling at Mach 1.15 (more than 1,000 mph). The LAS’ three motors will work together to pull the crew module away from the booster and prepare it for splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. The flight test will prove that the abort system can pull crew to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent.
Sporting two, previously used side boosters, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle stands tall on Launch Complex-39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in the early morning hours of June 24, 2019. The four-hour launch window opens tonight at 11:30 p.m. Eastern, 8:30 p.m. Pacific. (Photo: SpaceX)
The Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise capped off another decade of tremendous success for the nation’s premier launch acquirer in 2019.
“Our National Security Space Launch program successfully launched four National Security Space missions last year and maintained its perfect mission success record, which now stands at 78 of 78 successful launches. Additionally, the Rocket Systems Launch Program saw four successful launches and awarded four contracts, one in only 12 days,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise. “We also achieved two big “firsts” in 2019: The first launch deploying a secondary payload prior to the primary payload, and the first use of previously flown boosters.”
According to Bongiovi, SMC’s Launch Enterprise saved taxpayers over five billion dollars over the past decade, re-introduced competition to the National Security Space Launch program, provided assured access to space for our nation’s most critical space assets, and re-invigorated the small launch market.
Notwithstanding the tremendous successes through the 2010s, Bongiovi is even more excited about the prospects the new decade holds in store for the space launch industry.
This year will be the pacesetter for the new decade. “We have nearly 20 launches on the manifest for 2020. We also expect to award our Phase 2 launch contracts, heralding the next generation of launch vehicles effectively ending our nation’s reliance on Russian propulsion systems,” said Bongiovi. “Finally, we plan to demonstrate rapid, responsive, and resilient small space launch. Launching this number of missions takes some creative planning and efficient acquisition activities – and we are ready to do just that.”
Bongiovi emphasized SMC’s Launch Enterprise can launch any payload to any orbit using multiple, flexible contracts. The largest launch vehicles are contracted through the National Security Space Launch, or NSSL program, and the Rocket Systems Launch Program, or RSLP, generally uses some of the smaller launch vehicles available in our industry partners’ fleets.
“We pride ourselves on being able to meet all the launch service needs of the national defense satellite market,” said Bongiovi. “We have consistently demonstrated the ability to safely place payloads, from the smallest scientific, experimental and operational satellites, to the heaviest, most valuable payloads, into any orbit.”
Bongiovi explained Launch Enterprise will have plenty of opportunities this year to demonstrate SMC’s continuous drive for innovation, partnering, and responsiveness that will bring value to the taxpayer and warfighter. For example, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF)-6 launch will dispense a secondary payload before the primary. For the GPS III SV03 launch, SpaceX intends to fly back and recover the Falcon 9 booster for the first time on a National Security Space mission. Later this year, the U.S. Space Force (USSF)-44 will be the first NSS mission using SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.
“We have ten NSSL missions on the docket this year, so we must continue to execute with laser focus and remain steadfast on maintaining over 18 years of 100 percent mission success,” said Bongiovi.
For the first time since 2005, SMC will competitively award two launch service procurement contracts this summer to commercial launch service providers that will be capable of meeting all NSSL needs. These providers will bring the next generation of launch vehicles to the Launch Enterprise, delivering additional capabilities benefitting our warfighters and nation.
“This transition to new launch vehicles builds on 22 years of program successes,” said Bongiovi. “With the new generation of launch vehicles, the Launch Enterprise will be able to transition off the RD-180 engine, increase affordability, and drive competition for both current and future NSS requirements.”
SMC’s Rocket Systems Launch Program has also put the speed back into space acquisition.
“Last year, my team awarded a contract in only 12 days and executed a national mission from start to finish in less than nine months,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, RLSP program manager. “This year we’re shooting to demonstrate rapid, responsive and resilient tactical space launch before the end of 2020.”
According to Rose, RSLP has the opportunity to work with some of the newest, leading-edge entrants to the commercial launch market and is quite busy with at least 10 launches this year and several contract awards. In fact, the RSLP team plans to award the first Orbital Services Program (OSP)-4 task order to one of eight launch providers who secured a position on this indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity or IDIQ contract. The Space Test Program (STP)-S28 mission will launch up to 45 diverse payloads from a variety of government agencies, international affiliations, and academia, demonstrating the increasingly diverse partnerships being developed within SMC’s Launch Enterprise.
“By working with non-traditional innovative defense entities, RSLP is broadening the industrial base, meeting evolving mission requirements, and working national priorities. All of this must be done amidst evolving development schedules and budget fluctuations. The industry is moving faster and smarter these days and so is our Small Launch team,” said Bongiovi.