A small launch vehicle challenge from NASA drew offers from 10 firms, but 50% of them were effectively excluded due to flaws or other issues. NASA said on December 11 that it was granting contracts for its VCLS (Venture Class Launch Services) Demo 2 programme to Firefly Aerospace, Astra Space and Relativity Space. As a component of a NASA initiative to help illustrate new small launch vehicles, contracts, with a total amount of $16.7 million, require one launch from each organization holding cube clusters. 

At the moment of the contract award, the firm did not reveal the bidders’ list for the VCLS Demo 2 offer. It did, however, issue a December 23 source selection report that explained the evaluation by the department of the applications it received and why the three firms were chosen for contracts. Firms had to apply plans for one of the 2 independent missions under the VCLS Demo 2 solicitation conditions. ‘Mission One’ will be a dedicated launch to a five hundred-kilometre mid-inclination orbit with 30 kilograms of CubeSats. ‘Mission Two’ provided for 95 kilograms of cubesats to be launched as the primary payload, with 75 kg of cubesats to one sun-synchronous orbit at the distance of 550 kilometres as well as the other 20 kg to a close orbit but a minimum of 10 degrees apart in a rocket.

For Mission One, seven firms submitted proposals: Gloyer-Taylor Laboratories, Aevum, Astra, Phantom Space Corporation, Interorbital Systems, Relativity and Phoenix Launch Systems. Two Mission Two applications were submitted: Firefly Black, Firefly Aerospace’s Government Affairs Arm, and Momentus. The tenth applicant was Wagner Star Industries, which is a startup that’s also designing a “spaceplane drone” as per its LinkedIn website. The source selection report did not specify which mission the firm submitted a request for but acknowledged that the offer arrived and was not reviewed after the deadline.

Three out of the seven Mission One plans had technological flaws and were excluded from consideration as well. Gloyer-Taylor Laboratories, whose website claims that it is designing an Advanced Cryogenic Expendable (ACE) group of launch vehicles, submitted the request that the NASA Agency found two shortcomings. NASA concluded that Phoenix Launch Systems’ concept was flawed because it did not prove that the spacecraft “can meet the proposed conditions of Mission One.” The report did not expand on such shortcomings. However, the company’s website portrays a vehicle capable of putting 22 kg in a 400-kilometre orbit far below specifications of Mission One of 30 kg of cubesats.


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