3 companies win major Air Force rocket contracts

Jeff Bezos and New Glenn

Jeff Bezos and New Glenn

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

The Air Force said the OTAs awarded through a competitive acquisition process are part of its plan to competitively select two domestic commercial service providers that can support the launch of national security payloads by fiscal 2020.

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

The public-private Launch Service Agreements awarded almost $792 million to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, which acquired defense and space contractor Orbital ATK in June.

The three contracts are part of a Department of Defense 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.

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Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, awarded $500 million for the preliminary work, will build its New Glenn Launch System.

Each company will initially be allocated $181 million. Blue Origin is developing a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. "Our new OmegA rocket leverages technologies, capabilities and flight experience gained from decades of successful rocket launches, making it an affordable and reliable choice for national security missions".

The Launch Service Agreements are for the development of Blue Origin's New Glenn, Northrop Grumman's Omega and ULA's Vulcan Centaur rockets. Its first stage will be powered by seven BE-4 engines that are also being designed and manufactured by Blue Origin.

"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". The Air Force sought at least two USA companies that could meet all of its requirements and needs over the coming years.

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