ABL gets contract for U.S. Space Force ‘responsive launch’ mission 

Science

WASHINGTON — ABL Space Systems, a California-based launch startup that has yet to reach orbit, received a $15 million task order from the U.S. Space Force to demonstrate it can launch a payload on short notice from either one of the company’s two launch pads. 

The contract, announced Sept. 18, is part of a $60 million agreement announced in March known as a strategic funding increase, or STRATFI. ABL’s agreement includes $30 million in government funding and $30 million in matching funds from the company’s investors. The $15 million contract covers one-half of the government’s portion of the contract. 

ABL developed a small launch vehicle called RS1 capable of placing up to 1,350 kilograms into low Earth orbit. It attempted its first launch Jan. 10 from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on Kodiak Island but the mission failed

The company recently secured a launch pad at Space Launch Complex 15 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. 

ABL’s next launch date TBD

The timing for the next launch attempt has not been announced. ABL President Dan Piemont told SpaceNews Sept. 18 the company is “wrapping up our return to flight workflows and will establish a Flight 2 launch date in the near future.”

The responsive mission for the Space Force is projected to take place within the next two years, Piemont said. 

The company views the U.S. military as a key customer that would benefit from the company’s mobile infrastructure. The RS1 vehicle uses a containerized ground system that allows it to launch from sites with minimal fixed infrastructure. 

 The Space Force has experimented with other responsive launch options. Northrop Grumman launched a mission on 21-day notice in 2021 and most recently Firefly Aerospace executed one within a few days.

 “The Space Force is committed to growing tactically responsive space capabilities, including launch, space, and ground segments, to meet the needs of combatant commanders,” said Lt. Col. Justin Beltz, chief of the Small Launch and Targets Division at the U.S. Space Systems Command. 

Piemont said the Space Force is demonstrating capabilities to integrate spacecraft within days and launch within hours. “ABL’s goal is to expand this capability to multiple sites across the globe,” he said. “Our task under this contract is to maintain readiness at two separate deployed launch sites and receive an order from the Space Force to launch RS1 at either one of them.”

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