The House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel is recommending reducing the $1 billion proposed by the U.S. Space Force in fiscal 2021 for its National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program by $109 million due to what the panel termed unjustified cost increases.

The subcommittee advised cutting $104 million for launch services and support and $5.9 million for enterprise systems engineering, according to the panel’s report on the fiscal 2021 defense appropriations bill.

“The committee is concerned with the cost of the NSSL procurements, which account for more than 40 percent of the Space Force procurement budget,” the report said. “The committee is aware that the cost of launch services has dropped significantly in recent years as a result of increased competition from new entrants, yet the requested budget does not follow this downward trend, and remains stubbornly high, raising questions about the government’s cost to manage and oversee the program. The committee believes commercial practices must remain the cornerstone
of the launch program and should only incorporate mission assurance practices that improve it.”

The $1 billion for NSSL, the highest dollar amount program request in the Space Force’s nearly $2.5 billion procurement request, is followed by the nearly $628 million request for the GPS III Follow-On program.

Air Force’s acquisition chief Will Roper reiterated in April that the service can only afford to award contracts to two launch providers for future national security space launches, after a government-sponsored study largely agreed with that assessment.

Four launch providers – Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems [NOC], Blue Origin, Space X and United Launch Alliance (ULA) — are in the running to win two contracts under the NSSL Phase 2 program.

The RAND Corp. released a report in April, “Assessing the Impact of U.S. Air Force National Security Space Launch Acquisition Decisions: An Independent Analysis of the Global Heavy Lift Launch Market, which mostly concurred with the service’s assessment that support exists for two, not three, launch providers. But the report also recommended that the Air Force “provide tailored support through 2023 to enable three U.S. launch service providers to continue in or enter the heavy lift launch market” in the event that newly designed vehicles may take longer to field than anticipated.

ULA – a joint launch venture between Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin [LMT] – Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman are each offering clean-sheet rockets for the launch services procurement (LSP) program, each due to be fielded by 2021. The Air Force released a request for proposals for Phase 2 of the LSP program in May 2019, and is expected to award contracts this month.