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NASA Awards 3 Venture Class Launch Services Contracts

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 14, 2015
Filed under , , , , ,
LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) has awarded multiple Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contracts to provide small satellites (SmallSats) — also called CubeSats, microsats or nanosatellites — access to low-Earth orbit.

The three companies selected to provide these new commercial launch capabilities, and the value of their firm fixed-price contracts, are:

  • Firefly Space Systems Inc. of Cedar Park, Texas, $5.5 million
  • Rocket Lab USA Inc. of Los Angeles, $6.9 million
  • Virgin Galactic LLC of Long Beach, California, $4.7 million

At present, launch opportunities for small satellites and science missions mostly are limited to rideshare-type arrangements, flying only when space is available on NASA and other launches. The services acquired through these new contract awards will constitute the smallest class of launch services used by NASA.

“LSP is attempting to foster commercial launch services dedicated to transporting smaller payloads into orbit as an alternative to the rideshare approach and to promote the continued development of the U.S. commercial space transportation industry,” said Jim Norman, director of Launch Services at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “VCLS is intended to help open the door for future dedicated opportunities to launch CubeSats and other small satellites and science missions.”

Small satellites, including CubeSats, are playing an increasingly larger role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research and educational investigations at NASA. These miniature satellites provide a low-cost platform for NASA missions, including planetary space exploration; Earth observations; fundamental Earth and space science; and developing precursor science instruments like cutting-edge laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications and autonomous movement capabilities.

LSP supports the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) by providing launch opportunities for more than 50 CubeSats that are awaiting launch during the next three years. The VCLS contracts will demonstrate a dedicated launch capability for smaller payloads that NASA anticipates it will require on a recurring basis for future science SmallSat and CubeSat missions.

Small satellites already are used to provide imagery collection for monitoring, analysis and disaster response. In the future, CubeSat capabilities could include ship and aircraft tracking, improved weather prediction, and the provision of broader Internet coverage.

The Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington has partnered with LSP to fund the VCLS contracts. These VCLS launches of small satellites are able to tolerate a higher level of risk than larger missions and will demonstrate, and help mitigate risks associated with, the use of small launch vehicles providing dedicated access to space for future small spacecraft and missions.

“Emerging small launch vehicles have great potential to expand the use of small satellites as integral components of NASA’s Earth science orbital portfolio,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “Today’s CubeSat technology fosters hands-on engineering and flight research training; with the addition of reliable, affordable, and dedicated access to space on small launchers, constellations of SmallSats and CubeSats could revolutionize our science-based spaceborne Earth-observing systems and capabilities. We’re eager to work with the VCLS providers as they develop new launch capabilities for the Earth science community.”

For more information about NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/heo/home/CubeSats_initiative.html

For more information about NASA’s Launch Services Program, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/launchingrockets/index.html

23 responses to “NASA Awards 3 Venture Class Launch Services Contracts”

  1. tony_rusi says:
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    What does it take to become a “U.S. based” corporation anyway?

    • Vladislaw says:
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      You must have misread the article. NASA is buying a launch from a new entrant in the hopes of procuring lower cost launches in the future. Do you complain about every single dollar NASA spends with international partners?

    • Moon Express says:
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      Rocket Labs USA IS a U.S. based Corporation. NASA cannot fund companies outside of the United States. Rocket Lab has also received funding from DARPA. Moon Express has contracted for 5 launches for our lunar missions with Rocket Lab USA.

  2. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    OK, that article reads like a conspiracy theory rant.

    Apparently they did not try to call the Rocket Labs office in Colorado, for which there is a phone number listed.

    https://www.sbir.gov/sbirse

    Hype up the forwarding address in LA and ignore the other one. Failure to do basic research which I did in a matter of seconds. Amazing journalism lol.

    Genuine question: How can technical information about a rocket coming INTO the USA be a breach of ITAR?

  3. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    All right. So it IS possible, but that still sounds like an unfounded claim made by the article.

  4. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    When was it established in Los Angeles?

  5. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    That is precisely what I think is the case. This article is trash, bad journalism, and can be safely ignored.

  6. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    Hmm. Well, since the article contains no factual information, I suppose that is true.

  7. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    Troll? Absolutely nothing I have said here is troll-like.

  8. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    Interesting, since there’s an office in Los Angeles. I wonder when that was acquired.

  9. savuporo says:
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    Take a relax pill. NASA pays $82million per seat to Russians to take astronauts to space.

  10. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    Well, when a few seconds of searching contradicts one of the main points in the article, that does indicate there’s a pretty big flaw in it.

    Rocket Lab USA has been working with US government agencies since at least 2010. I have found no indication that it has ever had an ITAR violation, so that claim at least is completely baseless.

    I think it can be safely ignored. That’s not really an admonition that nobody else should look at it, but it is my own conclusion.

    • Aerospike says:
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      Space Lab USA != Rocket Lab USA

      Anyway, since I’m neither American nor from New Zealand, I couldn’t care less where the money goes to, but I would put my money on Rocket Lab regarding first flight of the three companies.

      @ Teressa
      Cute little page you have there. Calling it a “press” is a bit over the top. With just a single piece of “content” calling it a “blog” would still be an exaggeration…

  11. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    They may have established themselves recently in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t incorporated elsewhere.

    Rocket Lab USA has been operating in the USA since 2010. They’ve been given money from DARPA, the Operationally Responsive Space Office, and now NASA. clearly there’s no legal problem with US government agencies awarding money to the company.

    If there were an issue with ITAR it would have been found out long ago.

    Where is there fraud involved????

  12. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    The FAR is a lengthy and complicated document and I’ve only browsed through the parts that looked relevant, but I don’t see anything in it specifically prohibiting NASA from working with a New Zealand company.

    https://www.acquisition.gov

    There are exceptions to the “Buy American” clause in the FAR for goods or services that can’t be found in the USA, and the USA doesn’t really have a small-payload-to-orbit launcher right now. Which is the entire point of this award, to develop those small orbital launchers.

  13. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    The FAR is a lengthy and complicated document and I’ve only browsed through the parts that looked relevant, but I don’t see anything in it specifically prohibiting NASA from working with a foreign company.

    https://www.acquisition.gov

    There are exceptions to the “Buy American” clause in the FAR for goods or services that can’t be found in the USA, and the USA doesn’t really have a small-payload-to-orbit launcher right now. Which is the entire point of this award, to develop those small orbital launchers.

  14. Ball Peen Hammer ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    NASA is buying launch services from Russia, to carry people to the ISS.

    NASA is buying launch services from Rocket Lab to carry small satellites to orbit.

    Neither case involves NASA supplying missile technology to the contractor. In both cases the contractor is providing the rockets and launching them.

    NASA is paying RocketLab USA a per-launch price, not a development contract followed by per-launch pricing.

    How, exactly is that different?

  15. Ball Peen Hammer ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    In your investigative reporting, have you made any connections between the date of Rocketlab USA’s incorporation and Lockheed’s investments in the company?

    http://www.reuters.com/arti

  16. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    Then when did they get that office where they forward the mail?

  17. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    That doesn’t make any sense at all. In 2010 they were working with DARPA.

  18. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    What?

  19. Hug Doug ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    You obviously didn’t click the link to the FAR regulations that I posted. There are exceptions to the US only rule.

  20. Ball Peen Hammer ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:
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    Follow the link or use Google. Lockheed is one of Rocket Lab USA’s investors.

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