Air Force Taps Northrop, ULA, Blue Origin for Rocket Prototype Dev't OTAs

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

Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket wins Air Force contract

"These awards are central to the Air Force goal of two domestic, commercially viable launch providers that meet National Security Space requirements". Unlike the Atlas V rocket that the company now uses, the new rocket will uses engines made in the United States. This does not mean the company will not be able to launch satellites for the Department of Defense (DOD), though. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, formerly Orbital ATK Inc., was awarded $792 million and will manufacture its OmegA Launch System.

The billionaire's rocket company, which recently announced the development of a "large lunar lander" meant for a 2023 mission, will join Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Services (ULS) in providing the US Air Force better access to space. United Launch Alliance will take home the lion's share of $967 million, which will go towards developing its Vulcan rocket.

Blue Origin got $500 million for New Glenn, which it's building at a massive new factory on the Space Coast. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) The award is the first major government contract for the company, which has for years relied nearly exclusively on Bezos's fortune.

The rocket configuration consists of first and second solid rocket stages and strap-on solid boosters manufactured by Northrop Grumman, and a cryogenic liquid upper stage powered by Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL10C engine.

Air Force to "leverage its commercial, heavy-lift New Glenn launch vehicle for national security space missions", according to a news release.

"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. "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 "nontraditional acquisition arrangements" are typical for prototyping and "allow for shared investment", the Air Force said.

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