Published: Sat, October 13, 2018
Research | By Wilma Wheeler

3 companies win major Air Force rocket contracts

3 companies win major Air Force rocket contracts

The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday said that it had awarded a total $2.3 billion (£1.7 billion) in contracts to develop rocket launch systems for national security missions. Building on the capabilities of the company's current rockets, the Atlas V and Delta IV, the new ULA Vulcan will incorporate the best of both systems - with Vulcan deployment beginning with the first stage, based on the Delta IV's fuselage diameter and production process, expected to use two BE-4 engines. For almost a decade, ULA had a monopoly on Pentagon launches until it was challenged by SpaceX, which eventually was granted certification and has been competing against ULA.

Blue Origin entered into a Launch Services Agreement (LSA) partnership with the Air Force to leverage its commercial, heavy-lift "New Glenn" launch vehicle for national security space (NSS) missions, the Kent company announced Wednesday, Oct. 10.

The awards go to billionaire Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin; United Launch Services, part of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp; and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

Blue Origin will build the New Glenn launch vehicle under a potential $500M contract. The program aids in the development of commercial rockets and ensures that the US government has constant access to space for its national security payloads. Each company will receive an initial award of $181 million.

The United States Air Force stated that it's investing more into space launches to maintain the country's existing advantage in space development.

The company's development team is working on the program in Arizona, Utah, Mississippi and Louisiana, with launch integration and operations planned at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The New Glenn is a reusable orbital vehicle created to land back on Earth after launch.

The Air Force said it would not discuss which companies submitted bids for the funding agreements.

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