US Air Force Awards Contract for Final Five Delta IV Heavy Missions

ULA's Delta IV Heavy launches from SLC-37B on August 12, 2018.  Photo credit: Michael Seeley / We Report Space
ULA's Delta IV Heavy launches from SLC-37B on August 12, 2018. Photo credit: Michael Seeley / We Report Space

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE - EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), in partnership with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), awarded a sole source, five-year, $1.18 billion Firm-Fixed-Price (FFP) modification of the Delta IV Heavy contract (FA8811-19-C-0002), saving $455 million.

Startled Birds flee the NROL-37 Delta IV Heavy launch. Photo credit: Jared Haworth / We Report Space

The final five Delta-IV Heavy missions are:

  • NROL-44 (June 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station)
  • NROL-82 (September 2020 from Vandenberg Air Force Base)
  • NROL-91 (Second half of 2022 from VAFB)
  • NROL-70 (Second half of 2022 from CCAFS)
  • NROL-68 (Second half of 2023 from CCAFS)

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 (LVPS) component and a LOPS component. 

Delta IV Heavy clears the tower.  Photo credit: Dawn and Jared Haworth

The contract awarded LVPS to ULA for three NRO Launch (NROL) missions: NROL-91, NROL-68, and NROL-70, on Oct. 24, 2018. This LOPS contract modification will deliver the critical and required launch operations support necessary to launch five NRO missions: the aforementioned three missions, plus NROL-44 and NROL-82. LOPS is separate and distinct from LVPS. LVPS covers materials and manufacturing labor needed to produce the launch vehicles, whereas LOPS covers launch pad maintenance, and range support at Vandenberg AFB and Cape Canaveral AFS, launch vehicle propellants, satellite encapsulation, and the system engineers and technicians that support production and launch operations. 

“The Space and Missile Systems Center, with our NRO teammates, delivers outstanding space capabilities for the nation. We have full confidence that ULA’s Delta IV Heavy launch vehicles will continue their impressive history of mission success to launch key assets necessary for national security,” said Brig. Gen. Donna Shipton, Air Force program executive officer for Space Enterprise. 

Three mighty RS-68A engines propel the Delta IV Heavy off the pad at SLC-37B. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Jelen / We Report Space

“Mission success is our top priority. These satellites are critical to our Intelligence Community and national security. Finalizing the launch operations support for these Delta IV Heavy launch services is a fundamental step to deliver these critical national assets to their intended orbits,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, Director of Launch Enterprise. “These are the last remnants of our sole source contracts. 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,” he added. 

The remaining sole source contracts include 9 remaining Atlas-V launches: AEHF-6, AFSPC-7, NROL-101, SDP-3, AFSPC-12, AFSPC-8, Silent Barker, SBIRS-GEO5 and SBIRS-GEO6. Beyond these launches, the USAF will be competitively accepting bids for Phase II and Phase III contracts. 

Atlas V launching SBIRS-GEO4 in the unusual 411 configuration (4 meter payload fairing, one solid rocket booster, 1 Centaur upper stage engine). Photo credit: Bill Jelen / We Report Space