Launch sys­tems win big con­tracts

Orlando Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Cha­beli Her­rera

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.”

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