Pentagon Awards $5.6 Billion Launch Contracts to SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA

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The Pentagon has selected SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA for $5.6 billion in National Security Space Launch contracts. Learn about the details of the NSSL Phase 3 program, the role of these companies, and the future of U.S. space launches.

Pentagon Awards $5.6 Billion Launch Contracts to SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA
Pentagon Awards $5.6 Billion Launch Contracts to SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA

Pentagon Selects SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA for $5.6 Billion National Security Space Launch Deal

In a significant development for the U.S. space industry, the Pentagon has selected SpaceX, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide launch services for the U.S. Space Force. This decision, announced by the U.S. Department of Defense on June 13, outlines contracts worth up to $5.6 billion across fiscal years 2025 through 2029. These contracts fall under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 3 launch services program, which aims to enhance the nation’s capabilities in space.

The Scope of the NSSL Phase 3 Program

The NSSL Phase 3 program is designed to ensure that the United States maintains robust and reliable access to space for national security missions. The program is divided into two lanes: Lane 1 and Lane 2. The newly awarded contracts pertain to Lane 1, which involves at least 30 missions destined for low Earth orbit (LEO) over the five-year span. These missions include the launch of classified satellites for various U.S. agencies, such as the Missile Defense Agency, Space Development Agency, and National Reconnaissance Office.

Lane 2 missions, which will be awarded at a later date, involve more challenging launches to higher orbits using heavy-lift rockets. This division allows the U.S. Space Force to tailor its launch strategies according to the specific requirements of each mission, optimizing both cost and performance.

Blue Origin’s Milestone Achievement

One of the notable aspects of this announcement is the inclusion of Blue Origin, founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. This marks the first time that Blue Origin has been selected for national security launch contracts, a significant milestone for the company. Blue Origin has been striving to secure such contracts but was unsuccessful in its NSSL Phase 2 bid, despite an appeal.

The first flight of Blue Origin’s New Glenn heavy-lift rocket is currently scheduled for August 2024. This mission aims to send NASA’s two-spacecraft EscaPADE (Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers) mission to Mars. Successfully launching the New Glenn will be a crucial step for Blue Origin, demonstrating its capability to handle complex and high-stakes missions.

SpaceX and ULA’s Continued Dominance

SpaceX and ULA are no strangers to national security launches. Both companies have a proven track record of delivering critical payloads for the U.S. government. SpaceX, known for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, has been a dominant player in the space launch market, providing reliable and cost-effective solutions. Its reusable rocket technology has revolutionized the industry, significantly reducing launch costs.

ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has been a trusted partner for the U.S. government for decades. Its new Vulcan Centaur rocket, which had its successful first launch in January, is expected to play a significant role in future missions. ULA’s experience and reliability make it a cornerstone of the U.S. space launch capability.

Increasing Competition and Reducing Costs

The NSSL Phase 3 program aims to increase competition among launch service providers, which is expected to drive down costs for national security payloads. The competitive acquisition process saw seven offers submitted, highlighting the growing interest and capability within the U.S. space industry.

The increased competition is not only beneficial for reducing costs but also for fostering innovation and advancing technology. By having multiple providers, the U.S. Space Force can leverage the strengths of each company, ensuring a more resilient and versatile launch capability.

Implications for the Future

The selection of SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA for the NSSL Phase 3 contracts is a significant step forward for the U.S. space industry. It reflects the Pentagon’s confidence in these companies’ abilities to deliver critical national security payloads reliably and cost-effectively.

For Blue Origin, this contract represents a major breakthrough, providing the company with the opportunity to prove its capabilities on a national security stage. Successfully executing these contracts will be crucial for Blue Origin’s reputation and future prospects in the space industry.

For SpaceX and ULA, the continued partnership with the U.S. government reaffirms their positions as leaders in the space launch market. Their proven track records and advanced technologies ensure that the U.S. maintains a strong and reliable presence in space.

Broader Context of the U.S. Space Force

The U.S. Space Force, established in December 2019, is tasked with protecting American interests in space. It operates a wide range of satellites and other assets that are critical for national security, communications, navigation, and weather forecasting. The NSSL program is a key component of the Space Force’s mission, ensuring that these assets can be deployed and maintained as needed.

The growing number of launches and the increasing complexity of space missions underscore the importance of having reliable and versatile launch capabilities. The partnership with SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA ensures that the U.S. Space Force can meet its mission requirements and adapt to emerging threats and challenges in space.


The Pentagon’s decision to award SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA with contracts worth up to $5.6 billion for the NSSL Phase 3 program marks a significant milestone in the U.S. space industry. This move not only reinforces the capabilities of established players like SpaceX and ULA but also provides Blue Origin with a crucial opportunity to demonstrate its potential in national security launches.

As the U.S. Space Force continues to expand its operations and capabilities, the role of these companies will be instrumental in ensuring that America remains a leader in space. The increased competition and innovation resulting from this program are expected to drive down costs and enhance the overall resilience and flexibility of U.S. space launch capabilities.

The upcoming years will be critical as these companies work to fulfill their contracts and contribute to the nation’s security and technological advancement. The successful execution of these missions will pave the way for further advancements in space exploration and utilization, ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead the way in the final frontier.

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