As many as 88 national security missions are projected to launch in the 2027-2032 timeframe

The U.S. Space Force recently announced plans to expand the number of providers in the national security launch program. The decision is driven by the projected increase in demand for satellite launches and concerns about a possible shortage of heavy-lift rockets in the future.

Col. Douglas Pentecost, deputy program executive officer of assured access to space at the Space Systems Command, stated that the next procurement of launch services, known as National Security Space Launch Phase 3, aims to ensure the Space Force’s access to competitive pricing for launch supply.

The strategy involves selecting multiple medium-lift rockets for lower-orbit missions and three heavy-lift launch providers to reduce the Department of Defense’s dependence on SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.

The Space Force estimates it could conduct as many as 88 missions from 2027 to 2032. The Phase 3 strategy is designed to guarantee capacity for national security launches and secure competitive prices.

Under the dual-lane NSSL strategy, there will be 30 missions awarded in Lane 1 for smaller launchers to lower orbits and 58 missions in Lane 2 for heavy-lift launchers that can fly payloads to nine reference orbits, including demanding DoD and intelligence agency missions.

Out of the 58 missions in Lane 2, seven missions will be set aside for a third provider, while the other two Lane 2 winners will receive 60% and 40% of the remaining missions, respectively.

The Space Force initially planned to award five-year contracts to two Lane 2 providers but later decided to support a third provider for national security and economic reasons.

The Space Force revised the forecast for Lane 2 missions to 58 after further discussions with military space program offices and the National Reconnaissance Office, anticipating increased national security demand.

Companies seeking to challenge current NSSL providers SpaceX and United Launch Alliance can be selected even if they have new rockets in development, as long as they provide a credible plan showing their vehicle will be ready to fly by October 2026.

The Space Systems Command plans to release a final request for bids in September, and contracts for single-missions under Lane 1 and five-year contracts for Lane 2 would be awarded in October 2024.