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

Blue Origin Blue Origin will take home $500 million to aid in the development of its future New Glenn rocket.

In all, the new contracts amount to almost $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 US military to one day launch national security payloads. What would further add to the sting for Elon Musk's company, is the fact that the DOD will be selecting two of these three companies to become official launch providers for the USA government.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the program "is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow's Air Force faster and smarter".

The United States Air Force stated that it's investing more into space launches to maintain the country's existing advantage in space development.

The three companies will develop competing domestic launch vehicles to carry defense satellites, with commercial contracts likely to follow.

The awards go to Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin; United Launch Services, part of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp; and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

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 "nontraditional acquisition arrangements" are typical for prototyping and "allow for shared investment", the Air Force said. "These innovative public-private 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".

The funding awards, however, are not necessarily a guarantee that these companies will win launch contracts in the future, the Air Force said in a statement. The Air Force competitively awarded the Launch Service Agreements as other transaction (OT) agreements in accordance with the Air Force's other transaction authority (OTA) for prototype projects. The use of OTA is consistent with guidance in the National Space Transportation Policy to "cultivate increased technological innovation and entrepreneurship in the USA commercial space transportation sector through the use of incentives such as nontraditional acquisition arrangements, competition and prizes". The contracts will be "incrementally funded" through 2024 and managed by Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.