The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) awarded contracts worth nearly $739 million total to United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX for launch services for six future national security missions, according to a Feb. 19 contract announcement.

The service awarded the contracts Tuesday evening under Phase 1A of its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) launch services program, an effort to more rapidly and affordably deliver national security missions into space using commercial services.

Monday’s launch of a Falcon 9 rocket included another successful at-sea landing of the rocket’s first stage. Shown is a successfully landed first stage in 2016. Photo: SpaceX

ULA, a Boeing [BA]-Lockheed Martin [LMT] joint venture, was awarded a firm-fixed-price contract worth over $441 million to deliver the Air Force’s Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO-5 mission for missile warning and space surveillance capabilities, and an option for an additional SBIRS GEO-6 mission. Lockheed Martin is the contractor for the SBIRS payload, as well as the its intended follow-on, the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) program.

The award also includes services for the SILENTBARKER mission, a secretive joint effort between the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. John Raymond described the program as a “collaborative acquisition program to meet both NRO and Air Force Indications and Warning and [space situational awareness] requirements” in his 2017 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee.

Work will be performed in Centennial, Colorado, and Cape Canaveral, Florida. SILENTBARKER is expected to be ready for launch by March 2022, and SBIRS GEO-5 by March 2021, according to the contract award notice. Fiscal 2018 and 2019 space procurement funds in the amount of $308.5 million will be obligated at the time of award. Should the SBIRS GEO-6 option be exercised, it could possibly launch in fiscal year 2022 from Cape Canaveral, according to the SMC.

SpaceX was awarded a $297 million firm-fixed-price contract, for launch services to deliver the classified NRO-related missions NROL-87 and NROL-85, as well as Air Force Space Command’s AFSPC-44 mission to their intended orbits. Work will be performed at Space X’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, as well as Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Cape Canaveral.

NROL-85 and NROL-87 are expected to be ready for launch by December 2021, while AFSPC-44 is scheduled to launch by February 2021. FY ’18 and FY ‘19 space procurement funds in the amount of $285.2 million will be obligated at the time of award.

The contracts include launch service production, mission integration, mission launch operations/spaceflight worthiness and “mission-unique activities” for each mission, according to the award notice. Two offers were received following the final request for proposals released in January 2018 by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. Proposals were received in April 2018.

“The competitive award of these EELV launch service contracts directly supports SMC’s mission of delivering resilient and affordable space capabilities to our Nation while maintaining assured access to space” said Air Force SMC Commander and Program Executive Officer for Space Lt. Gen John Thompson in a press release. “Phase 1A continues to enable the space enterprise to respond to the rapidly evolving operating environment.”

The U.S. government expects to save over $300 million with the award of these six missions, with savings expected to grow with the second phase of EELV, according to an Air Force official.

Currently, ULA and SpaceX are certified to deliver national security space satellites to orbit, but the EELV program is a full and open competition. The Air Force plans to release the request for proposals for phase 2 of the EELV program by the second quarter of FY ’19, with a projected award in FY ’20.

Several space launch companies were awarded multi-million-dollar contracts this past October to field a launch system prototype by 2021 for use in the EELV program (Defense Daily, Oct. 10, 2018). ULA, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems [NOC] — formerly Orbital ATK — and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin were awarded research-and-development funds by the Air Force with the goal of ensuring enough competition in EELV’s second phase, service officials said.