ibusinesslines.com November 14, 2018

Three companies to develop rockets for national security launches

12 October 2018, 09:59 | Justin Tyler

Three companies to develop rockets for national security launches

Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs

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 USA military to one day launch national security payloads. "Leveraging domestic commercial space launch systems is good for the Air Force, and a revitalized commercial launch industry is good for the taxpayer".

The public-private partnerships will ensure "the USA maintains assured access to space, with at least two domestic launch service providers and without reliance on non-allied rocket propulsion systems". And United Launch Alliance - a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing - received a $967 million award for development of its Vulcan Centaur Launch System. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, formerly Orbital ATK Inc., was awarded $792 million and will manufacture its OmegA Launch System.

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

Interestingly, current launch provider SpaceX was not on the list. "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". The awards will be contracted through Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), located at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California.

The LSA partnership enables rapid buildout of NSS-unique "New Glenn" infrastructure such as vertical payload integration capability and a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base as well as completion of NSS certification activities.

"Thanks to the US Air Force for your confidence in the team Blue Origin and our rocket NewGlenn", tweeted Jeff Bezos.

Blue Origin recently completed a huge new rocket manufacturing facility just outside the Kennedy Space Center and is modifying a launch pad at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to support New Glenn flights. The New Glenn is a reusable orbital vehicle created to land back on Earth after launch.

The three contracts are part of a Department of Defence initiative to assure constant military access to space and curb reliance on foreign-made rocket engines, like ULA's flagship Atlas V rocket that uses Russian-made RD-180 boosters.

United Launch Alliance in 2015 announced it plans to retire the Delta IV variant.

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