Aevum snatches USAF contract to develop military spaceplanes

The United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center on Monday awarded a multi-million dollar contract to space startup Aevum Space to lift experimental satellites to low-Earth orbit, replacing space company Vector in pursuing the job.

According to a press release, the contract goes hand in hand with the U.S. Air Force’s plans on performing orbital launches and space programs under the Department of Defense

“The U.S. Air Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) office, part of the Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise, awarded a $4.9 million contract to Aevum, Inc. today for the ASLON-45 space lift mission via RSLP’s Small Rocket Program-Orbital (SRP-O) framework. The ASLON-45 mission will provide orbital launch services in support of the DOD Space Test Program and other Government agencies; improving the DOD’s real-time threat warnings. “

ASLON or the Air Force Agile Small Launch Operational Normalizer (ASLON)-45 where the government agency originally issued a solicitation for bids last December 14, 2018, and responses were due January 18, 2019.

ASLON is the U.S. Air Forces space lift mission, which they originally granted to contractor Vector on August 7. However, on August 26, Vector formally withdrew from the obligation citing that the project comes in a time where the company is going through financial difficulties.

Additionally, Vector said that the financial turmoil has also forced the company to suspend operations and halt development of its Vector-R small launch vehicle.

Despite the change of plans, Lt Col Ryan Rose, small launch and targets division chief at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico said that the schedule has not been derailed and will proceed as planned.

“We re-awarded this mission in just 14 days, with no impact to launch or mission,” said Lt Col Rose. “My team is working hard to make contract awards faster and this is an outstanding example of how we exemplify resiliency and flexibility in our contracting and acquisition practices” she added.

In addition to the newly minted contract with Aevum, it also comes with an added budget as compared to that initially granted to Vector. Although there are no delays expected so far, the U.S. Air Force wishes to expedite the development of the spaceplane.

According to the press release, the Rocket Systems Launch Program — part of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise — used a Federal Acquisition Regulation, called a “simplified acquisition procedure,” to expedite another agreement with a different contractor.

Because of this, Aevum’s contract now stands $1.5 million higher than the one that had been awarded to Vector.

An artist illustration of a prototype the U.S. Air Force wants Aevum to develop with this new contract.
Source: Aevum Space

Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise, says that Aevum Space’s contributions to the ASLON project will largely benefit research and future equipment development and manufacturing, which the U.S. Air Force will use in the future to strengthen the country’s defense measures in space.

“The Small Rocket Program-Orbital framework provides orbital launch services to academia, DOD, and other Government agencies for operations, research, development, and test missions and is a shining example of SMC’s drive to provide innovation and partnership across the Enterprise faster than ever before,” said

“These orbital missions, like ALSON-45, can be used to directly support the warfighter and demonstrate new weapon system technologies and concepts.”

The ASLON-45 space vehicle manifest says that it will consist of multiple 3U and larger U.S. government CubeSats to low-Earth orbit (LEO) at a 45-degree inclination. The vendor must provide all required dispensers and perform all payload integration and launch operations.

This will be the first Air Force mission for Aevum and will be launched from Cecil Air and Space Port in Jacksonville, Florida. The initial launch of the ASLON-45 mission is scheduled for the third quarter of 2021.

SMC, home to world-class satellite acquisition professionals, is the U.S. Air Force’s Center of Excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. SMC’s vast portfolio includes space launch, global positioning, military space vehicle communications, defense meteorological space vehicles, range systems, space vehicle control networks, space-based infrared systems, and space situational awareness capabilities.

Meanwhile, Aevum Space is an Alabama-based startup that claims it can launch small payloads every three hours using rockets carried by a fully autonomous unmanned aircraft. The Air Force on Aug. 19 awarded Aevum a small business innovation research (SBIR) Phase I contract for its autonomous launch and space logistics service.

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