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

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

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

SpaceX was not part of the award announced Wednesday, but the company's Falcon 9 rockets are used to launch military satellites, NASA spacecraft and commercial payloads from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg.

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, awarded $500 million for the preliminary work, will build its New Glenn Launch System.

The public-private partnerships will ensure "the US maintains assured access to space, with at least two domestic launch service providers and without reliance on non-allied rocket propulsion systems". United Launch Alliance will take home the lion's share of $967 million, which will go towards developing its Vulcan rocket.

Northrop Grumman, which recently acquired Orbital ATK, will receive almost $800 million for its OmegA Launch system.

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Northrop will perform work in Arizona, Utah, Mississippi, Florida, Ohio and Louisiana through December 31, 2024, while Blue Origin will carry out prototype development in Washington and Alabama through July 31, 2024.

Since 2003, the EELV program has launched 72 national security missions using the Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles.

Blue Origin is now developing the rocket reusable New Glenn, for the years 2020, and for which it has opened a plant last year. "Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow's Air Force faster and smarter", said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.

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

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

The company's Omega rocket is proposed as a vehicle to launch national security satellites for the United States Air Force and could launch other government and commercial payloads, including to Geostationary transfer orbit.

Interestingly, current launch provider SpaceX was not on the list.

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