September 25, 2022

An RS1 rocket amplifier is subjected to an acceptance test.

ABL Space

Missile maker ABL Space signed a long-term, multiple launch contract with Lockheed Martin and agreed to provide the defense giant with up to 58 missiles by the end of the decade.

Lockheed Martin will purchase up to 26 RS1 missiles from ABL by 2025, with an option for up to 32 additional launches by 2029, ABL announced on Monday.

“This secured access to space will accelerate our ability to demonstrate the spacecraft and associated payload technologies that we are developing to meet future mission needs for our customers,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Press release.

ABL’s RS1 rocket fits in the middle of the launch market between Rocket Lab’s small Electron and SpaceX’s large Falcon 9 vehicle. RS1 is nearly 90 feet tall and can put up to 1,350 kg (nearly 1½ tons) of payload into low-earth orbit.

Lockheed Martin’s venture arm is one of ABL’s early investors. The company has raised approximately $ 220 million in private capital to date. The bulk of it came in a round from T. Rowe Price and Fidelity Management last month, valued at $ 1.3 billion.

ABL declined to comment on the financial terms of the contract. Based on ABL’s $ 12 million price tag for an RS1 missile, the deal with Lockheed Martin is valued at nearly $ 700 million over an eight-year period, assuming the maximum number of launches.

A fully integrated second RS1 stage in the test fire at Edwards Air Force Base in 2020.

ABL Space

Because ABL’s missiles use a mobile ground system called the GS0, which can be packed into a few shipping containers, Lockheed Martin can use a variety of launch facilities around the world – including US Space Force facilities in Vandenberg, California and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

While the defense giant did not specify which missions it would launch with ABL’s missiles, Lockheed Martin announced back in February that it had selected ABL to launch a mission from Scotland in 2022. In addition, Lockheed Martin signed a strategic partnership with satellite startup Omnispace last month, with the latter planning to launch a constellation of satellites to build a 5G communications network in space.

The major order represents a coup for ABL in the medium-lift segment of the launch market, where the company is competing with Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, which entered orbit a few months ago.

Other competitors in this area are Relativity Space and Firefly Aerospace, which will be launched for the first time later this year. Meanwhile, Rocket Lab is developing a medium-lift rocket called the Neutron, which is expected to launch by 2024.

ABL continues to work on its first RS1 launch from Vandenberg.

While ABL had previously hoped to be ready for launch in March, President Dan Piedmont said the company is now aiming for “flight readiness by June”. The rocket builder recently completed acceptance tests for the first RS1 fuel tank. However, according to Piedmont, ABL expects the required regulatory approvals for the launch site to postpone the first launch attempt to the third quarter of this year.