The Space and Missile Systems Center will award ride-share contracts to six small launch providers under the Defense Production Act, providing support to a market the Pentagon has repeatedly said is vulnerable to coronavirus-related financial restraints.

The six companies approved by the Industrial Base Council are Aevum, Astra, X-BOW, Rocket Lab USA, Space Vector and VOX Space. Each company will be awarded sole-source contracts for two ride-share missions to be conducted over the next 24 months. The value of the contracts was not included in the announcement originally posted on on June 16.

Funding for the 12 ride-share missions will come from the Defense Production Act Title III funding effort, which is backed by the recently passed coronavirus relief act.

The Pentagon has singled out the small launch market as being particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last few months. On April 20, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord warned that the small launch market was one of three sectors she was most worried about.

In a later statement to C4ISRNET, the Space and Missile Systems Center elaborated on her remarks.

“There is concern that the current financial and market constraints resulting from the COVID-19 have reduced funding sources necessary to continue development and operations for the nascent small launch industry,” said Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of SMC’s launch enterprise directorate. “Much of the industry have limited flight capability or are in the critical transition from development to flight and this funding restriction may prevent or delay these systems. The Space and Missile Systems Center is evaluating the impacts to the small launch industrial base to consider actions to enable a robust U.S. launch industrial base.”

In response, the Space Force Acquisition Council held an emergency meeting with representatives from the U.S. Space Force, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Space Development Agency and others. A survey was sent out to members of the Space Enterprise Consortium to see how the Defense Department could help.

SMC Commander Lt. Gen. John “JT” Thompson hinted earlier in the week that Defense Production Act awards would be forthcoming for the small launch market.

“In the small launch environment, Secretary Lord and [U.S. Space Force Service Acquisition Executive Will] Roper have both commented about how important small launch is to our enterprise, and I can’t give you the details right now but I would anticipate here very shortly some very critical Defense Production Act awards to our small launch providers to keep that industry going,” Thompson said.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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