The $116 million allocated for smallsat launch agreements has shifted to other operations. The US Air Force procurement official Will Roper speculates that there is a likelihood of these funds, which the DoD had secured for this project under the Defense Production Act, not returning any time soon.
Initially, DOD had prepared these funds under contracts to recuperate six smallsat startups from the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, DoD went back on these deals to benefit Rocket Lab, Space Vector, X-Bow, Astra, Aevum, and VOX Space. The funds were supposed to facilitate the deployment of two rideshare missions in the next two years.
Roper admits that the Pentagon had consented to dish out $116 million for these small launch contracts. But the Pentagon went back on its word and transferred the cash to small business loan programs which are in dire need.
Although the Air Force is the lead agent for DPA Title 3 deals, the final decision on the appropriation of these funds is with the Defense Industrial Base Council. Roper explains that he was championing the small launch startups, but the secretary of defense decided to negate this deal. The spokesperson of the OSD failed to reply to questions challenging this decision.
Roper explains that they were ready to award the contracts, but the decision to shift the funds from this program resulted in them changing focus to the selected program. Roper denounces this decision saying that if he had the jurisdiction, he would consider investing in at least one of the Title three initiatives.
Roper reveals that there is no certainty about when these funds will be available to run the contracts. He states that the only chance is for a new congressional decision to channel funds for these programs. Otherwise, the congress committee on finance allocation can choose to retrieve money from DPA programs whose costs are low than the appropriated funds.
Roper is unhappy to witness the outcome since he believes the smallsat launch is an essential component of the defense industry. He understands that the economic downtime has severely impacted this sector and hopes that the stakeholders can develop strategies to revitalize the market operations.
Finally, Roper hopes that the appropriations committee can prioritize the small launch contracts once the money flows into the system. Roper explains that the lack of competition in the six firms’ selection process might be the contributing factor to their lack of consideration.