The United States Air Force has awarded defense contracts worth over $2 Billion, to three companies. Under the terms of the contract, the United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and Blue Origin, will work towards developing rockets capable of taking national security satellites into orbit around the earth.
Interestingly, current launch provider SpaceX was not on the list. 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 US government.
Awarded under the US government’s Launch Service Agreement, these contract form part of the US government’s attempts to reduce reliance on Russian rockets for launches that are of national importance from a security standpoint. 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 $2 Billion contract by the Air Force, will help the 3 companies in their rocket development efforts. United Launch Alliance will take home the lion’s share of $967 million, which will go towards developing its Vulcan rocket. The Vulcan is expected to build upon and further augment the capabilities of the ULA’s current rockets, the Atlas V and Delta IV.
Meanwhile, the Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems will be receiving $791.6 million towards creating an all new rocket called the OmegA launch system. Finally, Blue Origin will receive $500 million to help in the development of its future New Glenn rocket, which are supposed to be able to come back to earth in one piece after launching their payloads – a technology SpaceX has already developed, and nearly perfected. Blue Origin also plans to use some of the money to create a brand new launch site out of the Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Speaking on the topic, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said:
Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter. 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.