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USAF Awards ULA Contracts for 5 Delta IV Heavy Launches

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 1, 2019
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The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first-ever mission into a part of the Sun’s atmosphere called the corona. Here it will directly explore solar processes that are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events that can impact life on Earth. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (SMC PR) –– 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.

This modification was awarded Sept. 27 to United Launch Alliance (ULA) for Launch Operations Support (LOPS), in support of five NRO Launch (NROL) missions: NROL-44, NROL-82, NROL-91, NROL-68 and NROL-70.

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.

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.

“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.

LVPS for NROL-44 and NROL-82 were procured in FY17 under the Phase 1 Block Buy contract (FA8811-13-C-0003).

6 responses to “USAF Awards ULA Contracts for 5 Delta IV Heavy Launches”

  1. Robert G. Oler says:


  2. Mr Snarky Answer says:


    • Robert G. Oler says:

      I am surprised

      • Mr Snarky Answer says:

        The reason ULA retired D4M+ and kept D4H was precisely this case. SpaceX will get the “lower end” of the NSS launch business and the tippy top will go to ULA to keep them going. Besides SpaceX would have to build vertical integration, stretch fairing for some (if not all) of these missions along with finishing work for FH at Vandy. In the meantime ULA can get some decent coin from their D4H infra while working on migration to Vulcan and reduced throughput on Atlas V pads while the pad work is done. (Reduced throughput based on some missions going to SpaceX)

        USAF/NRO are still in a much better place than before because Atlas V is far from a replacement for D4H without going to Atlas Heavy (which would be a ton of work). FH on the other hand, in national emergency, could be brought into action to backstop D4H with much less time and money. Same goes for a backstop to Vulcan once D4H is retired.

  3. Andrew Tubbiolo says:

    What a disappointment. Save money and Delta IV h no longer go hand in hand. If ever there is a time for SpaceX to sue, this would be it. There’s other less expensive ways to keep ULA artificially alive. Delta IV h only makes sense over Falcon Heavy for very high orbits.

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