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Jun 04 2015

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NASA Venture Class Launch Service (VCLS) Q&A

The VCLS is a small sat (60Kg or 2 x 30 kg) payload launch system that NASA is looking to possibly contract out. The solicitation is in Pre-Request for Proposal (RFP) phase, and usually the government will accept questions from potential bidders and provide answers when a solicitation is getting close to being released. NASA just published answers to VCLS questions, and there are some interesting tidbits among them:

Question Answer
How will payloads be selected and will there be a formal payload manifest such that emerging small launch service providers can foresee the potential NASA demand? The VCLS satellites will be selected from NASA’s backlog of CubeSats awaiting flight. NASA will select satellites based on their compatibility with the offeror’s proposed launch service solution. Currently NASA has 50+ CubeSats on a manifest backlog.
If proposing dual 30kg launches, is a specific turnaround time required? Also, is there a requirement for both to go to the same orbit? No specific turnaround time is required, however, we would like to understand the offerors approach to turnaround time where dual launches are proposed. Both launches would have to occur before April 15, 2018. There is no requirement for both to go to the same orbit.
Reference Statement: The launch(s) shall occur at a Contractor-specified launch date, which shall be no later than June 15, 2018.
Question: Does NASA expect to have a continuing requirement for a dedicated launch service following the June 15, 2018 launch date?
The VCLS requirement is for a launch NLT April 15, 2018 (Error in SOWwill be updated in final RFP). The VCLS requirement is for a launch service, that can occur via a single launch of 60kg or a dual launch of 30kg. NASA does not have a forecast at the current time for future potential launch services.
The VCLS RFI is designed to offer an “alternative to rideshare” and is targeted at the 60 kg weight class. “The Government will evaluate [performance] enhancements only to the extent that the offeror commits to providing the enhancements as a contract requirement, and it is included in the offeror’s proposed unit prices.” When discussing this topic on the industry call, we understood NASA to say that more capability that 60 kg – in a dedicated launch – could be valuable, but that NASA would not be evaluating the criteria on a price per kg basis. Could you give us some indication of how NASA would assess the value of a dedicated launch that exceeds 60 kgs? NASA will consider offered enhancements that the offeror has included in their model task order and any enhancements may be considered in the trade-off consideration by the Source Selection Authority (SSA).
Will NASA LSP develop a standardized payload dispenser to accommodate a variety of small sats or is this up to the launch service provider to accommodate the variety in the small sat industry? No, it is up to the offeror to determine their optimal deployment mechanism configuration within the 60kg requirement.

A couple of thoughts:

  • Providing rides to CubeSats along with standard launches is not keeping up with CubeSat launch demand
  • There is a significant backlog of CubeSats in NASA’s inventory. Though the VCLS is a one-shot deal, if it proves successful, I would not be surprised if NASA doesn’t follow up this contract with an IDIQ that would cover multiple launches.
  • I would expect that Firefly, Stratolaunch, SNC, among others, would be bidding on this. It’ll be interesting to see who wins. It looks like price alone won’t be the only factor in choosing the winner.

The Solicitation is supposed to come out this month with an award date of September, so we shouldn’t have to wait long to find out.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/06/04/nasa-venture-class-launch-service-vcls-qa/

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