from the competition++ dept.
The U.S. Air Force has provided SpaceX with an additional $40.7 million to support continued development of the company's Raptor engine.
A Defense Department contract announcement Oct. 19 stated that the Air Force was modifying an existing agreement with SpaceX, originally awarded in January 2016, by providing the company with $40.766 million "for the development of the Raptor rocket propulsion system prototype for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program."
The statement didn't include additional information about the nature of the work other than that it would be completed by the end of April 2018. The work, according to the announcement, would be carried out at NASA's Stennis Space Center, which hosts engine testing for the Raptor, as well as SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California and Los Angeles Air Force Base, home to the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center.
Blue Origin submitted a proposal late last year in what's expected to be a four-way competition for U.S. Air Force funding to support development of new orbital-class rockets, a further step taken by the Jeff Bezos-owned company to break into the military launch market, industry officials said. The proposal, confirmed by two space industry sources, puts Blue Origin up against SpaceX, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance, which could use Blue Origin's BE-4 engine to power its next-generation Vulcan rocket. It also sets up the New Glenn rocket, in development by Blue Origin, to be certified by the Air Force for national security missions.
Blue Origin received funding in an earlier phase of the Air Force's initiative to help companies develop new liquid-fueled U.S.-built booster engines in a bid to end the military's reliance on the Russian RD-180 powerplant, which drives the first stage of ULA's Atlas 5 rocket. The Air Force's money supported development of the BE-4 engine, which was designed with private money, and is still primarily a privately-funded program. The Pentagon funding announced in early 2016 for the BE-4 program was directly awarded to ULA, which routed the money to Blue Origin's engine program.
SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne also received Air Force funding in 2016 for propulsion work. SpaceX used the Air Force money for its methane-fueled Raptor engine, which will power the company's next-generation super-heavy BFR launcher. Orbital ATK is developing its own launcher for national security missions, which would use solid-fueled rocket motors for the initial boost into space, then use a hydrogen-fueled upper stage for orbital injection. Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR1 engine is a backup option for ULA's new Vulcan rocket.
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