The Air Force on Friday released a pair of key documents on Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) related to its pursuit of a next-generation rocket propulsion system.

The Air Force issued a draft request for proposals (RFP) for its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) rocket propulsion system prototype, which it called Phase 2 of its acquisition strategy. The goal of Phase 2 is to have two or more domestic, commercially-viable launch providers that also meet national security space (NSS) requirements.

United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle uses the Russian RD-180 engine. Photo: Air Force.
United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle uses the Russian RD-180 engine. Photo: Air Force.

This will provide assured access by ensuring the Defense Department has at least two space launch vehicles, or families of launch vehicles, capable of delivering payloads into space. Phase 2 will also transition the EELV program away from foreign reliance and will support the United States launch industry’s commercial viability in the global market.

The focus of Phase 2 is to facilitate development of domestically-produced rocket propulsion system prototypes as early as possible that will enable the associated domestic EELV class launch system designs to meet requirements. This competition will invest funding authorized in the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for development of domestic rockets.

The $220 million authorized is being awarded in two parts: a portion is being used for technology maturation and risk reduction efforts while the remaining portion will be used for development of rocket propulsion system prototypes. DoD defines a prototype as a physical or virtual model used to evaluate the technical or manufacturing feasibility and EELV utility of the rocket propulsion system.

The Air Force on Friday also released a broad agency announcement (BAA) requesting industry input for a booster propulsion technology maturation project. The requirements of the BAA are that the system developed: be made in the United States, meet the requirements of the national security space community, be developed by no later than 2019, be developed using full and open competition and be available for purchase by all space launch providers of the United States.

Responses to the BAA are due no later than May 8 while the Air Force expects a final solicitation to be posted to Federal Business Opportunities as soon as possible, but no later than May 9. The service also expects to begin evaluations for white papers and submit RFPs to prospective offerors in June. The anticipated funding amount for all awards under this BAA is $31 million.

Offerors for the booster propulsion technology maturation project shall propose a firm fixed price (FFP) or cost plus fixed fee (CPFF) in accordance with federal law. FFP may be used for lower risk deliverables. For deliverables that incur more risk, the contractor may propose a CPFF contract. The contract type is, ultimately, the Air Force’s discretion. The service’s preferred contract type will be included in the RFP to offerors selected.

The documents are part of a congressional directive to wean the Air Force off the Russian-developed RD-180 rocket engine, which is currently used to power a majority of defense and intelligence community (IC) launches.