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The U.S. Air Force’s next launch contract up for bid? An experimental mission

The U.S. Air Force intends to use an Orbital ATK satellite platform for the STPSat-6 mission. Shown above is an artist's concept of the GEOStar-1 platform Orbital ATK offers for national security missions in geostationary orbit. Credit: Orbital ATK

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force released on Aug. 19 a draft solicitation that sets up a competition for SpaceX or United Launch Alliance to launch an experimental mission, known as Space Test Program-3, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in late 2018.

In an effort to re-introduce competition to the national security launch industry, the Air Force has said it plans to award nine competitively-bid launch contracts before the end of 2018. By releasing the draft request for proposal, STP-3 appears to be the third of those missions. Six of the nine missions are expected to be GPS-3 satellites.

SpaceX won the first competitively bid contract in more than a decade in April to launch the GPS 3-2 satellite in 2018 for $82.7 million. Earlier this month, the Air Force released a formal request for proposals for the second competitive mission, the GPS 3-3 satellite. That satellite is expected to launch in 2019.

The primary payload for STP-3 will be an experimental satellite to detect nuclear explosions and monitor the space environment from geosynchronous orbit.

That satellite, known as Space Test Program Satellite (STPSat)-6, would be the latest in a series of spacecraft developed under a Defense Department program to field space capabilities quickly in response to emerging military needs. Orbital ATK built the bus.

The mission also includes NASA’s Laser Communication Relay Demonstration. That program calls for a two-year flight demonstration to help prove out optical communications between geosynchronous orbit and earth. NASA ultimately plans to transfer the laser communication technology to industry.

The Air Force said July 25 that six other payloads would be aboard the STP-3 mission.

SpaceNews.com

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The U.S. Air Force’s next launch contract up for bid? An experimental mission

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