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US Air Force releases GPS III-3 launch services RFP

August 4, 2016  - By

The Air Force has released a Request for Proposal (RFP) for launch services for the GPS III-3 mission, scheduled to launch in 2019. Proposals are due Sept. 19; the contract will be a standalone contract for a single GPS III launch.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX are expected to compete for the contract. In April, SpaceX was chosen to launch the GPS III-2 satellite in May 2018. ULA chose not to compete.

The RFP seeks an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Service. The draft RFP was released on June 14 to obtain industry feedback to inform the Final RFP.  After extensive industry engagements, the Final RFP was released on Aug. 3 with proposals due back to the Air Force no later than Sept. 19 in accordance with the solicitation instructions.

After evaluating proposals through a competitive, best-value source selection process, the Air Force will award a firm-fixed price contract that will provide the government with a total launch solution including launch vehicle production, mission integration and launch operations for the GPS III-3 satellite.

Artist's concept of the nextgen GPS III satellite (courtesy of the USAF).

Artist’s concept of the nextgen GPS III satellite (courtesy of the USAF).

The Air Force’s acquisition strategy for this solicitation achieves a balance between mission success/operational needs, and lowering launch costs, through reintroducing competition for national security space missions, the Air Force said in a press release.

“Launch system certification is a key element (high technical bar) within this solicitation to provide insight into the technical capabilities and rigorous processes that demonstrate a launch vehicle contractor’s ability to design, develop, manufacture, and launch national security space missions and contributes to the overall flight worthiness process,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and Air Force program executive officer for Space.  Prior to contract award, the contracting officer will verify that the Offeror has a certified launch system as part of a responsibility determination resulting in a high technical bar.

“Through this competitive solicitation for GPS III launch services, we hope to continue fostering competition in order to promote innovation and reduce cost to the taxpayer while maintaining our laser focus on mission success,” Greaves said.

GPS III is expected to provide improved anti-jamming capabilities as well as improved accuracy for precision, navigation, and timing. It will incorporate the common L1C signal which is compatible with the European Space Agency’s Galileo global navigation satellite system and compliment current services with the addition of new civil and military signals.

The first GPS III satellite undergoes system-level thermal vacuum testing. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The first GPS III satellite undergoes system-level thermal vacuum testing. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

This is the second competitive launch service solicitation under the current Phase 1A procurement strategy. The Phase 1A procurement strategy reintroduces competition for national security space launch services.  Under the previous Phase 1 strategy, ULA was the only certified launch provider. In 2013, ULA was awarded a sole-source contract for launch services as part of an Air Force “Block Buy” of 36 rocket cores that resulted in significant savings for the government through FY 2017.

In May 2015, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was certified for EELV launches resulting in two launch service providers that are qualified to design, produce, qualify and deliver a launch capability and provide the mission assurance support required to deliver national security space satellites to orbit.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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