Experimental Launch & Test Division/Rocket System Launch Program

(Current as of June 2017)



            The Experimental Launch & Test Division (LEX) manages the Rocket System Launch Program (RSLP).  LEX is a geographically separated unit of the Launch Enterprise Directorate and is based out of Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.  This division provides space launch for all government programs, to include the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program (STP) in accordance with the 1972 Secretary of Defense Charter and the 1995 Space Transportation Act. 

            LEX integrates, tests, and launches experimental technologies, prototype space vehicles, and operational systems requiring small launch.  The division personnel provide unique rocket launch skill-sets to form the small-spacelift execution arm of Air Force Space Command and Space & Missile Systems Center (SMC).  The history behind the organization heralds back to the origins of our Nation’s space program.


Program History


            In 1963, the Advanced Ballistic Missile Reentry Systems (ABRES) program was established to manage reentry vehicle research and the reutilization of deactivated Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) assets.  Since 1963, the program has evolved into the RSLP and provides a breadth of expertise in both ballistic missile testing and space launch initiatives.

            RSLP provides options for small spacecraft to reach a variety of orbits using retired Minuteman and Peacekeeper rocket motors and commercially acquired small space lift services.  RSLP can support most U.S. Government customer's space launch requirements within 18 to 24 months once the effort is on contract.


Acquisition Strategy


            RSLP provides cost-effective space launch, target launch, and studies based on customer funding.  The program provides space and target flight test mission program management, mission assurance, integration of launch & space vehicles, and day-of-launch operations under RSLP execution.  The program maintains Orbital-Suborbital Program (OSP) and Small Rocket Program (SRP) contracts to provide responsive launch service procurement for government agencies. 


Launch Service Contracts


            The Air Force awarded four, 5-year Orbital-Suborbital Program 3 (OSP-3) launch services contracts on 30 November 2012.  The OSP-3 contractors are the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Orbital ATK Inc.), and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX).  The OSP-3 uses firm-fixed price (FFP) task orders and has a $900 million ordering ceiling for 10 to 12 launches.  The Lane 1 contracts of OSP-3 provide for small launch services that transport payloads, weighing between 400 and 4,000 pounds, to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).  The Air Force awarded the OSP-3 Lane 1 contracts to Orbital ATK for its Minotaur I and IV launch vehicles and to Lockheed Martin for their Athena 1c and 2c launch vehicles.  The Lane 2 contracts of OSP-3 provide medium launch services that transport payloads, weighing between 4,000 and 20,000 pounds, into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).  The Air Force awarded Lane 2 contracts to Orbital ATK for its Minotaur VI and Antares launch vehicles and to SpaceX for its Falcon 9 Upgrade and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.  The OSP-3 contracts have an ordering period through 29 November 2017.

            On 30 October 2008, the Air Force awarded its Sounding Rocket Program-3 (SRP-3) contracts to support the target and short range ballistic launch missions.  The Air Force awarded four 7-year cost-plus-incentive fee, firm fixed price, and cost-plus-incentive fee indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity SRP-3 contracts.  The contractors were:  Orbital ATK, Coleman Aerospace, ATK (now Orbital ATK Inc.) and the Space Vector Corporation.  The SRP-3 contractors provided the launch systems and services for suborbital target vehicles with downrange capability not exceeding 5,500 kilometers (3,417 miles).  The SRP-3 supported specific projects that SMC awarded as task orders when needed.  SRP-3 was used to procure the first 3-stage Enhanced Long Range Air Launch Target (E-LRALT) vehicle for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) launched in late 2013, Juno and Janus Patriot Target Vehicle (PTVs) for missile defense testing, and an Abort Test Booster (ATB) for NASA. 

            In November 2016, RSLP was approved to pursue both the SRP-4 follow-on contract to the SRP-3 effort, and a new Small Rocket Program-Orbital concept to individually procure very small (0-400 lb to LEO) space launch services as mission needs arise.