The U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., confirmed on Oct. 4 that it wants an additional launch provider beyond SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA), as the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program moves forward.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing [BA] are part of ULA.

SSC “intends to award three requirements contracts for launch services delivering multiple National Security Space (NSS) missions with annual ordering periods from Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 through FY 2029, comprising a portion of the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program’s manifest that will be ordered during that period,” according to a Performance Work Statement in the Oct. 4 solicitation for NSSL Phase 3, Lane 2. “If the government determines there are less than three awardable offerors, the government may award less than three contracts. The contractor shall have the capability to deliver at least eight NSS launch services per year.”

Industry proposals are due by Dec. 15. In a separate NSSL Phase 3, Lane 1 RFP on Oct. 4, SSC includes “annual on-ramping opportunities,” the command said. “These aspects were chosen to fortify assured access to space by strengthening the industrial base and increasing the availability of reliable space launches for NSSL programs in a constrained market.”

SSC said on Oct. 4 that it plans to award the Phase 3, Lane 1 contract next spring and the Phase 3, Lane 2 contracts in the fall of next year.

Comments from industry on NSSL led SSC to say in July that it will pursue a new “dual-lane approach” for Phase 3 (Defense Daily, July 14).

Lane 1 of Phase 3 “is a multiple firm fixed price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract open to all qualified bidders,” SSC has said. “Lane 1 includes the opportunity for annual on-ramping for emerging providers and launch systems as they become available. Lane 1 covers procurements with a five-year base ordering period from FY25 to FY29 plus a five-year option. Lane 1 is tailored for more risk-tolerant space vehicles launching to commercially addressable orbits.”

By contrast, under Lane 2 of Phase 3, Space Force is planning to award three firm fixed price, indefinite delivery requirement contracts “to the best value, next best value, and third best value launch service providers who meet all NSSL orbits and unique mission capabilities.”

“Our Phase 3 strategy provides maximum opportunity for emerging and experienced launch service providers alike to participate in the NSSL program and provide our nation with the most robust launch capability we have ever possessed,” Col. Douglas Pentecost, SSC’s assured access to space deputy program executive officer, said in an Oct. 4 SSC statement. “By the end of the Phase 3 we will have at least three providers fully capable of meeting all NSSL requirements, as well as a full complement of launch service providers using systems designed for more risk-tolerant space vehicles launching to traditionally commercial orbits.”

In July, Frank Calvelli, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, said that the heart of the “dual-lane” Phase 3 NSSL strategy is making the U.S. “space architecture more resilient so it can be counted on during times of crisis and conflict.”

Delays in the test flight certification of the ULA Vulcan rocket’s Centaur V upper stage will not result in any extra launches for SpaceX in Phase 2, Pentecost said last month (Defense Daily, Sept. 8).

“In the event of schedule delays, the government will assess the situation and determine a path forward with the Launch Service Provider,” Pentecost said. “The Phase 2 contract includes mechanisms used to deal with schedule delays caused by either the contractor or the government.”

In June, SSC assigned 12 NSSL missions to SpaceX and ULA–six for each provider–under the fiscal 2023 NSSL Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement contract (Defense Daily, June 8).