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US Space Force awards national security space launch contracts to three companies

ULA's Vulcan rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral on 8 January, launching the Peregrine lunar lander into a trans-lunar injection orbit. The rocket is now qualified to launch national security payloads. (ULA)

The US Space Force (USSF) has awarded contracts to Blue Origin, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance (ULA), allowing them to bid to perform national security space launches through 2029, the service said in a 13 June announcement.

The contracts, dubbed Phase 3 Lane 1 of the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) programme, do not immediately procure launches but effectively qualify the companies to bid for batches of launches for the next five years. Two requests for proposals (RFPs) were released at the time of the NSSL announcement, which the companies are to bid for: one for seven launches from USSF's Space Development Agency, and another for an unspecified number of launches for the National Reconnaissance Office. At least 30 launches are anticipated under Lane 1, USSF said in the announcement.

Blue Origin received an immediate USD5 million for an initial capabilities assessment and to “provide an explanation of how they will approach tailored mission assurance” for its New Glenn launch vehicle (LV), while SpaceX and ULA received USD1.5 million each for the same purpose on their Falcon series and Vulcan LVs respectively.

SpaceX and ULA were previously qualified under NSSL's Phases 1 and 2, the most recent of which was announced in 2020. Blue Origin bid for NSSL Phase 2 but failed to qualify.

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