The Space Development Agency now plans to use the Space Force's National Security Space Launch Phase 2 contract to carry the next tranche of satellites for its transport layer.
SDA announced the change this week in a revision to its Transport Layer Tranche 1 draft request for proposals. The brief update notes that language in the draft RFP around contractor-procured launch services will not appear in the final solicitation, which is expected later this year.
Tranche 1 will include up to 150 satellites, and the agency had previously intended to allow the satellite developers to procure launches under separate contracts.
The Space Force in 2020 selected United Launch Alliance and SpaceX to provide launch services under its NSSL Phase 2 contract.
It’s unclear what drove SDA’s decision, but some lawmakers have questioned the agency’s decision not to use the NSSL contract for the 28 satellites it will launch as part of Tranche 0, though SDA ultimately chose SpaceX for the mission. The Fiscal Year 2021 Defense Appropriations Act directed DOD and intelligence community agencies to use the contract for NSSL-class missions.
SDA Director Derek Tournear said as recently as April the agency was considering alternatives to NSSL Phase 2 for Tranche 1, adding that NSSL-class launch vehicles may not be able to meet the agency’s future needs, especially if it wants to launch missions in multiple planes.
"That sets us up into a different class of launch vehicle -- and one that, frankly, there's not a lot of launch vehicles in that class right now," he said. "That's kind of what I see as the future way that we will sustain these orbits. How we actually get that in Tranche 1, whether we go with six commercial procurements or whether we actually work with NSSL, that's still being debated."