Bezos’ Blue Origin, Others Get $2.3 Billion in US Rocket Contracts

A rendering of Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket in flight

The US Air Force yesterday said that it had awarded a total US$2.3 billion (RM9.55 billion) in contracts to develop rocket launch systems for national security missions.

The United States Air Force stated that it's investing more into space launches to maintain the country's existing advantage in space development. Through public-private partnership agreements, the goal of the acquisition strategy is to satisfy federal law by ensuring that the USA 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, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, won a $967 million contract to develop its Vulcan Centaur rocket, a powerful launcher that will replace the company's venerable Delta 4 and Atlas 5 boosters. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems formerly Orbital ATK - will build the OmegA launch system, and ULA is slated to build its Vulcan Centaur launch system, both with initial launch capability by 2021.

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The funding is for the development of competing launch system prototypes geared toward launching national security payloads. In a surprise to some observers, SpaceX, the ambitious rocket company founded by Elon Musk, was not among the latest winners in the Pentagon's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

Blue Origin said in a statement following yesterday's announcement that it will build a launch site at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, although it did not say what rockets would launch from the site. "I'm excited to announce these creative partnerships that directly support the Air Force's strategy to drive innovation and leverage commercial industry". SMC is the U.S. Air Force's center of acquisition excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Bezos tweeted a thank-you message Wednesday to the Air Force for its "confidence in the Blue Origin team". Up until now, many DOD payloads have been sent to the orbit using the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket, which is powered by Russian RD-180 engines. The rocket has been under development since 2014, and ULA expects the first launch of the new rocket to occur no earlier than mid-2020. The New Glenn is a reusable orbital vehicle created to land back on Earth after launch.

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