Launch systems win big contracts
The U.S. Air Force is putting its money in three rockets.
Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch system, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur launch system and Northrop Grumman’s OmegA launch system were winners the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program Wednesday, a highly soughtafter award that will allow the companies to complete development of their boosters for the three rockets.
In all, the new contracts amount to nearly $2.3 billion in financial support for the three companies and set the stage for the rockets to become major players in future satellite launches, now that they have the backing of the U.S. military to one day launch national security payloads.
“We're making the most of the authorities Congress gave us and we will no longer be reliant on the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, in a press release. “Leveraging domestic commercial space launch systems is good for the Air Force, and a revitalized commercial launch industry is good for the taxpayer.”
Blue Origin got $500 million for New Glenn, which it’s building at a massive new factory on the Space Coast. ULA, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, received a $967 million award for its Vulcan Centaur and Northrop Grumman was awarded $791.6 million for OmegA.
The Air Force program dates back to 2003, and is an effort to modernize the Air Force’s rocket fleet and move it away from its reliance on ULA’s Delta II rocket, which was costly, and ULA’s Atlas V rocket, which used Russian RD-180 engines. The Air Force sought at least two U.S. companies that could meet all of its requirements and needs over the coming years.
“These awards are central to the Air Force goal of two domestic, commercially viable launch providers that meet National Security Space requirements,” said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, the Air Force’s Program Executive Officer for Space and SMC commander, in a release. “These innovative publicprivate partnerships with industry provide a path to develop launch vehicles to assure access to space, address the urgent need to transition away from strategic foreign reliance, and provide responsive launch capabilities to the warfighter.”