The US Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics USD (AT&L) undersecretary Frank Kendall has proposed a new strategy in order to meet the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) priorities of short access to space.
According to Kendall, the proposed strategy will be an American solution that is not dependent on Russian-made RD-180 rockets, but it would not replace one Russian-made rocket with a US counterpart.
Kendall said: "The first thing I would like to emphasise is that the department does not buy rockets or engines.
"We do not buy launch systems or propulsion systems.
"What we do buy is the transportation of our satellites to space by launch service providers."
In order to take advantage of the economies of scale, the US DoD could look at replacing the small number of existing highly capable satellites with a larger number of satellites with more distributed capabilities.
This will enable the department to enter business arrangements with prospective launch service providers using a commercial model.
Kendall added: "The basic business deal we have in mind is that the department will, through competition, provide at least two launch service providers with some of the capital they need to develop, test and certify the launch systems they will use to provide us with launch services in the future, including any unique DoD requirements."
In exchange, the department will acquire the right to purchase launch services in the future at competitive prices and some degree of assurance that those systems will actually be available.
A draft request for proposals is expected to be released shortly, with hopes to award contracts in fiscal 2017.
The undersecretary said: "In most acquisition strategies, the department specifies the product or service that it desires and industry bids to provide the specified deliverables.
"In this case, industry will have an important role in defining the terms of the arrangement or contract.
"Each selected launch service provider is expected to offer unique terms that will have to be negotiated."
The proposed two affordable and reliable sources of launch services will ensure competition, drive down costs and end any use of the RD-180 Russian engine for DoD launches.
Image: Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Photo: US Air Force photo / Scott M. Ash.