Air Force Doles Out $2.3B for Space Launch Contracts

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Blue Origin's New Glenn launch system, United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur launch system and Northrop Grumman's OmegA launch system were winners the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program Wednesday, a highly sought-after award that will allow the companies to complete development of their boosters for the three rockets.

"These awards are central to the Air Force goal of two domestic, commercially viable launch providers that meet National Security Space requirements", Lt. Gen. John Thompson, SMC commander, said in a statement. Building on the capabilities of the company's current rockets, the Atlas V and Delta IV, the new ULA Vulcan will incorporate the best of both systems - with Vulcan deployment beginning with the first stage, based on the Delta IV's fuselage diameter and production process, expected to use two BE-4 engines.

The awards go to 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 funding provided through this agreement will be used to tailor our launch vehicle and associated facilities for national security space needs".

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Blue Origin will also build its own launch site at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, switching coasts from its traditional site at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Atlas uses RD-180 engines made in Russian Federation. "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".

Awarded under the United States government's Launch Service Agreement, these contract form part of the USA government's attempts to reduce reliance on Russian rockets for launches that are of national importance from a security standpoint. Bezos tweeted a thank-you message Wednesday to the Air Force for its "confidence in the Blue Origin team". The company will also be providing the engines to power the first stage of ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket.