Published: Sat, October 13, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Blue Origin wins US Air Force contract for heavy orbital rocket

Blue Origin wins US Air Force contract for heavy orbital rocket

"These awards are central to the Air Force goal of two domestic, commercially viable launch providers that meet National Security Space requirements".

Currently, ULA and SpaceX are the only launch providers for national security payloads.

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The Air Force announced the award of three Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Service Agreements to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and United Launch Alliance on Wednesday, October 10, according to the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs. A joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. known as United Launch Alliance won the largest amount - $967 million - for work on its Vulcan Centaur rocket. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) The award is the first major government contract for the company, which has for years relied nearly exclusively on Bezos's fortune.

Northrop Grumman has a long history of launching critical payloads for the Department of Defense, NASA and other customers with the company's Pegasus®, Minotaur and AntaresTM launch vehicles as well as a wide array of strategic missile interceptors and targets in support of critical national security launch programs. "Leveraging domestic commercial space launch systems is good for the Air Force, and a revitalized commercial launch industry is good for the taxpayer".

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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. Bezos tweeted a thank-you message Wednesday to the Air Force for its "confidence in the Blue Origin team".

Blue Origin also plans to use some of the money to create a brand new launch site out of the Vandenberg Air Force Base. New Glenn is expected to reach initial launch capability in 2020. The "nontraditional acquisition arrangements" are typical for prototyping and "allow for shared investment", the Air Force said.

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