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

"Since the early days of the space program, the Air Force has been a world leader in space launch", said Air Force Chief of Staff David L. Goldfein. Unlike the Atlas V rocket that the company now uses, the new rocket will uses engines made in the United States.

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". The EELV program has successfully launched 72 NSS missions, dating back to 2003, using the Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles.

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

The contracts went to the United Launch Alliance (ULA), the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin. The company is receiving $791.6 million to develop their Omega rocket.

The $2 Billion contract by the Air Force, will help the 3 companies in their rocket development efforts.

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Blue Origin's New Glenn Rocket.

Blue Origin has announced on Twitter that it will pursue a launch site at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, so the New Glenn can blast off either from the California base or from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The service will award other commercial launch services contracts to providers "who demonstrate the capability to design, produce, qualify, and deliver launch systems and provide the mission assurance support required to deliver National Security Space satellites to orbit", the release said. 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. ULA announced in September that its Vulcan rocket will be powered by Blue's BE-4 liquid rocket engines. 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 almost perfected.

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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