ULA Receives $1.2 Billion for NRO Launches

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a critical payload for the National Reconnaissance Office denoted NROL-71 lifted off from Space Launch Complex-6 on Jan. 19, 2019. ULA photo.

The United Launch Alliance will receive another $1.2 billion to support launches of five National Reconnaissance Office missions, under a five-year contract increase announced Sept. 30.

The Sept. 27 award saves $455 million on the NROL-44, NROL-82, NROL-91, NROL-68, and NROL-70 missions, according to the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. All five missions will head to space on ULA’s Delta IV Heavy rocket. The total contract value grew from nearly $468 million to $1.6 billion with five annual options, according to the Pentagon announcement.

“To meet required launch dates while maintaining the best value for the government, SMC and NRO divided this contract into a launch vehicle production services component (LVPS) and a LOPS (launch operations support) component,” SMC said Sept. 30. “LVPS covers materials and manufacturing labor needed to produce the launch vehicles, whereas LOPS covers launch pad maintenance, and range support at Vandenberg [AFB, Calif.] and Cape Canaveral [AFS, Fla.], launch vehicle propellants, satellite encapsulation, and the system engineers and technicians that support production and launch operations.”

Dividing the contract not only led to cost savings, but also shrank the timeline by 11 months because ULA could negotiate prices with its suppliers and buy hardware in advance, an SMC spokesman told Air Force Magazine.

Vehicle production services funding for three missions was awarded in October 2018, and those contracts for the other two missions were issued in fiscal 2017. The satellites perform secretive intelligence and national security missions under the current iteration of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program now known as National Security Space Launch.

“These are the last remnants of our sole-source contracts,” Col. Robert Bongiovi, SMC’s launch enterprise director, said in a release. “We look forward to embracing the competitive landscape that we have worked hard with industry to create. The competitive launch services market is strong, and we look forward to the Phase 2 acquisition that leverages this market and builds upon our legacy of mission success.”

SpaceNews also reported two of the missions, NROL-44 and -82, ran behind schedule and are slated for launch in fiscal 2020. One of the remaining three will launch each year from 2022 to 2024. Overall, rocket production and launch services for the five missions cost about $2.2 billion, according to SpaceNews.