Blue Origin’s New Glenn New Glenn’s second stage tank at Launch Complex 36 in Cape Canaveral, FL., July 14, 2022. (Photo: Blue Origin)

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin and Stoke Space Technologies — neither of which has yet reached orbit — have been approved by the Space Force to compete for future launches of small payloads, Space Systems Command (SSC) announced today.

The two companies were granted indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contracts in the “second on ramp” of contractors for the Orbital Services Program (OSP)-4, which is part of SSC’s Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP).

RSLP “allows for the rapid acquisition of launch services to meet mission requirements for payloads 400 pounds or greater, enabling launch within 12-24 months from task order award. Task orders under the contract can be tailored to meet more demanding timelines for Tactically Responsive Space missions or other needs,” the SSC announcement explains.

The OSP-4 contract vehicle was designed by the Space Force to allow both mature launch providers and promising new companies — that is, those judged as about a year away from launch capability — to vie for individual task orders for missions that don’t require services under the more critical National Space Security Launch (NSSL) program.

“RSLP continues to serve as a complement to the National Security Space Launch Program, providing access to a wide range of solutions that may not be available through other programs. We’re known for our proud tradition of supporting orbital and suborbital launch needs including experimental and operational missions,” explained Lt. Col. Steve Hendershot, chief of SSC’s Small Launch and Targets Division.

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, is now aiming for a Sept. 29 first flight of its New Glenn heavy-lift rocket for a NASA Mars exploration mission. New Glenn’s development has suffered from multiple technical difficulties and schedule delays, having originally been slated to launch in 2020.

Stoke announced on June 11 it had successfully fired up its “fully reusable” Nova rocket, and is targeting its first orbital test launch for sometime next year. The small startup, which is headquartered near Seattle, Wash., was established in 2019 and recently added retired Lt. Gen. John Shaw, former US Space Command deputy, to its advisory board.

The two firms join 10 other vendors in the OSP-4 pool: ABL Space Systems, Aevum, Astra, Firefly Aerospace, Northrop Grumman, Relativity Space, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance (ULA), and X-Bow. SSC awarded initial contracts under the program in 2019, and then on-ramped three more in 2021.