Monday, 17 December, 2018

Air Force Taps Northrop, ULA, Blue Origin for Rocket Prototype Dev't OTAs

Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket wins Air Force contract
Cary Marshall | 12 October, 2018, 22:02

The award to Blue Origin will be for development of the New Glenn Launch System.

The Defense Department has the option to narrow it to two companies no later than 2020 that will then compete for future launches.

Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance received contracts of $500 million and $967 million, respectively. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems formerly Orbital ATK - will build the OmegA launch system, and ULA is slated to build its Vulcan Centaur launch system, both with initial launch capability by 2021.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the program "is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow's Air Force faster and smarter". The contracts are to develop rockets and carry defence payloads into space.

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The Atlas 5's use of Russian-built RD-180 first stage engines has generated widespread controversy in recent years, but the new Vulcan Centaur will use two of Blue Origin's BE-4 engines in its first stage and Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engines in the Centaur second stage. The Air Force sought at least two USA companies that could meet all of its requirements and needs over the coming years. "I'm excited to announce these creative partnerships that directly support the Air Force's strategy to drive innovation and leverage commercial industry".

The funding awards, however, are not necessarily a guarantee that these companies will win launch contracts in the future, the Air Force said in a statement. The awards are part of cost-sharing arrangements - known as Other Transaction Agreements - that the Air Force is signing with the three companies to ensure it has multiple competitors. The rocket will be launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, Military Satellite Communications, Defense Meteorological Satellites, Space Launch and Range Systems, Satellite Control Networks, Space Based Infrared Systems and Space Situational Awareness capabilities.

Interestingly, current launch provider SpaceX was not on the list. The high-level specifications for the vehicle were publicly announced in September 2016.

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