The Air Force has awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA) a $149 million contract modification for the second of three planned launch missions for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the service said May 9.

The Air Force released a sole-source request for proposal on March 8, 2017, to ULA to procure Delta IV Heavy launch services for three missions, and awarded the first – dubbed NROL-91 – on Oct. 24, 2018. ULA is a joint space launch venture between Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin [LMT].

A Delta IV Heavy launches June 11, 2016, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Photo: ULA.

The May 9 contract modification award is related to NROL-68, while the third mission is dubbed NROL-70. Launches are expected to occur in fiscal years 2022, 2023 and 2024, according to the Air Force. The first mission is expected to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, while the second two will take off from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida.

The Air Force conducted market research in 2015 and 2016 to study the feasibility of competing these NRO launch services, and found that ULA’s Delta IV Heavy was “the only launch vehicle with the unique capabilities necessary to satisfy the launch capability requirements and ultimately meet National Security mission objectives,” according to service documents.

The Delta IV-Heavy sole-source contracts will be the last of their kind as the Air Force transitions to a competitive procurement process for future National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions under the Space Launch Procurement program. The service released the second request for proposals for the LSP program May 6 (Defense Daily, May 6).

These missions will be launched aboard the final three Delta IV Heavy vehicles that ULA produces, as the company continues development on its forthcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Work will be performed in Centennial, Colorado; Decatur, Alabama; and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and is expected to be complete by December 2022, according to the Thursday contract award.

The modification raises the total cumulative face value of the contract to $449.8 million. Fiscal 2019 missile procurement funds in the amount of $139 million are being obligated at the time of award. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the contracting activity.