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Speculations about Space Force developing heavy-lift military launch vehicles

Last month, the United States Space Force selected the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy as launch vehicles that satisfied the state security requirements to fly its satellites. 

Brig. Gen. Jason Cothern, the procurement supervisor of inauguration services at the U.S. Space Force, expressed the excitement and anticipations for future space exploration missions. Cothern made the statement as the vice commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) during an online forum conducted by the RAND Corporation on September 8. 

However, Cothern’s statement omitted the speculations that the Space Force plans to utilize ultra heavy reusable launch vehicles such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn or SpaceX’s Starship for future satellite inaugurations. While responding to a question on whether the military plans to employ super heavy-lift launch vehicles for its space missions, Cothern said that their providers satisfy both the current and later goals of the agency.

Space and Missile Systems Center strive to attain 100% success in every space mission it conducts. SMC anticipates partnering with ULA and SpaceX in the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 program. Currently, the most crucial concern is the requirements for the next generation of lift-off vehicles for upcoming military space missions. Cothern said that the type and design of the launch vehicles depend on the kind of threats involved during the mission. The development process consists of acknowledging the risks and determining the applicable requirements and architectures that neutralize the hazards.

The RAND forum involved a panel discussion focused on the market research study for the cooperation’s space launch missions. The recommendations from the research prompted an endless debate on the responsibility of the United States military in fostering strategies for the future of the launch industry.

Bonnie Triezenberg, a senior engineer at RAND and the lead author of the market study, insisted that the Air Force took a decisive step to select two space companies for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 program procurement. However, the Air Force considers a move to support more space corporations to boost development within the United States commercial base.

Cothern said the Space Force is yet to consider plans to financially support space launch companies aside from the two contract awardee of Phase 2. Launch providers such as Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin are to incur the costs for conducting all the National Security Launch certification procedures on their new launch vehicles. Cothern said that the Space Force looks forward to working with any other launch provider not selected for Phase 2 launch, but at their own expense. To conclude, the future of the space industry is promising for any launch provider considering working with the Space Force.