The Air Force released a request for proposals Thursday night for the next phase of its next-generation launch vehicle development program.
The Launch Services Agreements RFP continues the service's effort to eliminate its reliance on the Russian-made RD-180 engine and, through public-private partnerships with industry, will result in up to three contract awards to develop prototype systems. The Air Force will then select two systems to compete for future Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle missions beginning in fiscal year 2020.
"The key step to transition from the use of non-allied space launch engines, maintain assured access to space, and introduce sustainable competition for future EELV [national security space] launch services will be public private partnership agreements that partially fund industry's new and/or upgraded launch system solutions," the RFP states.
The strategy builds on previous investments the service has made to mature rocket propulsion technology and support plans for new systems. In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the service provided a series of rocket propulsion system technology awards and, early last year, it awarded public-private partnership agreements to SpaceX, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance to advance development of their propulsion work.
The Launch Services Agreements will provide broader and more significant investment in launch vehicles, beyond the propulsion systems. Each company will be required to fund a portion of the cost of its proposal, which will include the vehicle as well as launch infrastructure, manufacturing processes, test stands and other items required to provide a launch service that meets national security space requirements.