U.S. Air Force is looking towards the private sector for making its space missions cost-effective. A recent example in this context was the awarding of a contract to Rocket Lab for its varied missions in 2019.
This step was taken by the Air Force in view of the rising demand for affordable space rides for smaller satellites with one of the major customers in this aspect being the DoD Space Test Program which needed to launch a number of small sats for experimental purposes into space. The Rocket Lab contract involves launch of three satellites into the low orbit of the Earth in the later part of the current month from Rocket Lab USA’s Electron rocket. Funding for the mission comes from Rapid Agile Launch Initiative (RALI), a Congressional supported program.
The impending launch by Rocket Lab is one of the five planned launches under RALI. All in all 21 experimental satellites will be sent to space under the five planned small launches by the end of the current year. Besides, Rocket Lab, the name of the other vendor chosen by DoD Space Test Program was Vox Space. A third vendor could exist but its name was unknown.
The work hitherto carried on at RALI will move to a program called Rocket Systems Launch Program which was funded to the tune of $47.6 million in financial year 2019 and to this another $12 million would be added in 2020. The funds would go towards the Space Test Program mission 28 (STP-28) entailing a mix of nano and micro satellites. Vendors will be asked to give their proposals by summer of this year.
RALI missions including the Rocket Lab one adhere to licensing from Federal Aviation Administration and commercial practices. The work of STP in this context was to give a ‘do no harm’ evaluation on the payload stack. Both the DoD and the Air Force had no say in the launch approval.