Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket wins Air Force contract

Christopher Davidson
October 11, 2018

The U.S. Air Force says Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance have won its go-ahead for the development of new rockets that could be used for national security launches - a boost that could eventually add up to billions of dollars. For almost a decade, ULA had a monopoly on Pentagon launches until it was challenged by SpaceX, which eventually was granted certification and has been competing against ULA.

With these contract awards, the Pentagon will be looking to help two more suppliers enter the market.

ULA was awarded almost $1 billion for its new rocket, the Vulcan Centaur.

Today's announcement is a significant step in a process aimed at fostering USA -made alternatives to ULA's Atlas 5 rocket, which uses of Russian-built RD-180 engines on its first-stage booster. The Atlas V uses RD-180 engines made in Russian Federation.

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Centennial, Colorado-based United Launch Services received $967 million to develop its Vulcan rocket; Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin was awarded $500 million to build its New Glenn booster, and Northrop Grumman of Arizona received $791.6 million for its OmegA rocket. (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. "These innovative public-private partnerships with industry provide a path to develop launch vehicles to assure access to space, address the urgent need to transition away from strategic foreign reliance, and provide responsive launch capabilities to the warfighter".

The awards will be contracted through Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in California.

Blue Origin stated that it would pursue a launch site at the Vandenberg Air Force Base and would gain certification for national security missions. While it remains to be seen if Congress would approve a new bureaucracy in the Pentagon, the measure has elevated the concerns over national security space issues.

"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.

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