The U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), in partnership with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), on Aug. 7 awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA), composed of Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing [BA], a $337 million contract for two classified mission launches and Space X a $316 million contract for one classified mission launch under Phase 2 of the launch service procurement (LSP) National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program for the U.S. Space Force.

The Phase 2 contracts are for launch service orders this fiscal year through FY ’24, with the first missions launching in FY ’22. SMC is to order launch services annually from ULA and Space X. ULA is to receive 60 percent of the launch orders, and SpaceX will receive the remaining 40 percent.

The LSP program is expected to award the two companies with up to 25 launches over a five-year period under the contract vehicle for NSSL, formerly known as the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). The NSSL effort will allow the Air Force to end reliance on the Russian-made RD-180 engine by leveraging U.S. commercial launch capabilities.

Roper has said that the Air Force 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 in Phase 2.

The LSP program is expected to include 25 launches over a five-year period under the contract vehicle for NSSL, formerly known as the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). The NSSL effort will allow the Air Force to end reliance on the Russian-made RD-180 engine by leveraging U.S. commercial launch capabilities.

Air Force Acquisition Chief Will Roper has said that the Air Force could 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, Blue Origin, Space X and ULA — competed to win two contracts in Phase 2. Roper said that Phase 3 is an open competition so Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin could compete for contracts in that phase.

“Maintaining a competitive launch market, servicing both government and commercial customers, is how we encourage continued innovation on assured access to space,” Roper said in an Aug. 7 statement. “Today’s awards mark a new epoch of space launch that will finally transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines.”