California-based launch startup ABL Space Systems has been awarded a $15 million task order from the US Space Force to demonstrate its ability to launch payloads on short notice from its launch pads. This contract is part of a $60 million agreement, with $30 million in government funding and $30 million in matching funds from investors. ABL’s small launch vehicle, RS1, is capable of placing up to 1,350 kilograms into low Earth orbit. The company’s first launch attempt on January 10 at Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska was unsuccessful. However, ABL has recently acquired a launch pad at Space Launch Complex 15 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.
The next launch date for ABL has yet to be determined. ABL President Dan Piemont stated that the company is finalizing return-to-flight workflows and will announce the Flight 2 launch date soon. The Space Force’s responsive mission is expected to occur within the next two years. ABL sees the US military as a major customer that can benefit from its mobile infrastructure. The RS1 vehicle utilizes a containerized ground system, enabling launches from sites with minimal fixed infrastructure.
The Space Force has been exploring different responsive launch options. Northrop Grumman successfully launched a mission on a 21-day notice in 2021, and Firefly Aerospace recently executed one within a few days. Lt. Col. Justin Beltz, chief of the Small Launch and Targets Division at the US Space Systems Command, expressed the Space Force’s commitment to developing tactically responsive space capabilities.
ABL aims to expand its launch capabilities to multiple sites worldwide. Under this contract, the company’s task is to maintain readiness at two separate deployed launch sites and receive orders from the Space Force to launch RS1 from either location.