When the U.S. Air Force announced contracts Feb. 29 for Aerojet Rocketdyne to work on a new rocket engine known as the AR1 and for United Launch Alliance to work on its next-generation Vulcan rocket, it marked the Defense Department’s first major space awards of 2016. Combined, those deals could be worth as much as $700 million.
The contracts are a key step in the Air Force’s move away from the Russian RD-180 rocket engine ULA’s Atlas 5 uses to launch a majority of national security satellites.
Each January, SpaceNews asks the Air Force for a breakdown of major space contracts it expects to award before the end of the year. The list offers insight into how the service plans to modernize its fleet of satellites, launch vehicles and ground infrastructure. It also provides another indicator for how closely the Air Force is following the timelines it has previously offered in budget books, congressional testimony and acquisition documents.
This year, the contracts reflect the Air Force’s plans to bolster its position, navigation and timing constellation, through the launch of two satellites in 2018, and to start a competition to build the next batch of GPS 3 satellites. The service also wants to modernize its launch ranges. Both priorities are among those frequently touted by DoD leaders, who say GPS plays a role in every military mission and that the ability to launch satellites into orbit is crucial.
What follows is a timeline of major space contracts the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center expects to award by year’s end:
JANUARY – MARCH
Launch of GPS 3-2
Estimated value: $140 million
Air Force’s first competitive launch contract in more than a decade. SpaceX is expected to win, after ULA opted not to bid.
Western Range Modernization
Estimated value: $113 million
Contract to upgrade the communications core at the Air Force’s western range at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
APRIL – JUNE
CAMMO (Consolidated AFSCN Modifications, Maintenance & Operations)
Estimated value: $902 million
Consolidate work on the service’s main satellite control network.
Range and Network Division Systems Engineering and Integration
Estimated value: $275 million
A contract to provide engineering and integration support at Los Angeles, Peterson and Patrick Air Force bases for up to six years.
JULY – SEPTEMBER
GPS 3 SV11+ Phase 1 production contract
Estimated value: $15 million
The Air Force will award up to three contracts for companies to demonstrate their ability to build the next batch of GPS 3 satellites, a deal, which could eventually be worth several billion dollars. Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are expected to bid.
Launch of GPS 3-3
Estimated value: $140 million
This is expected to be the first true competition for an Air Force launch contract in which both ULA and SpaceX submit bids.
Protected Tactical Service Field Demo
Estimated value: $168 million
The service may award as many as three contracts for the modem and cryptographical unit of terminals to handle a new protected tactical waveform.