Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket wins Air Force contract

Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket wins Air Force contract”

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

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.

Atlas V rocket lifting off with NRO payload from Vandenberg, AFB on March 1.

The U.S. Air Force has chosen three aerospace companies in which to invest $2 billion, including one that builds rockets in Chandler. Through public-private partnership agreements, the goal of the acquisition strategy is to satisfy federal law by ensuring that the US maintains assured access to space, with at least two domestic launch service providers and without reliance on non-allied rocket propulsion systems.

Blue Origin won a $500 million contract to help develop its New Glenn booster, a rocket with a fully reusable first stage powered by seven BE-4 engines burning liquefied natural gas.

Northrop will perform work in Arizona, Utah, Mississippi, Florida, Ohio and Louisiana through December 31, 2024, while Blue Origin will carry out prototype development in Washington and Alabama through July 31, 2024. The main assembly of the New Glenn launch vehicle will occur in the Blue Origin rocket manufacturing facility in Florida, near Launch Complex 36 which the company leased from Spaceport Florida. "These awards are central to the Air Force goal of two domestic, commercially viable launch providers that meet National Security Space requirements", said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, the Air Force's Program Executive Officer for Space and SMC commander. What would further add to the sting for Elon Musk's company, is the fact that the DOD will be selecting two of these three companies to become official launch providers for the United States government. "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".

United Launch Alliance in 2015 announced it plans to retire the Delta IV variant.

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