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posted by martyb on Tuesday October 24 2017, @04:22AM   Printer-friendly
from the competition++ dept.

Air Force adds more than $40 million to SpaceX engine contract

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.

The Raptor engines are one of the components needed for SpaceX's upcoming super heavy-lift launch vehicle now known as the BFR. Falcon Heavy uses Merlin 1D rocket engines.

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Blue Origin's orbital rocket in the running to receive U.S. military investment

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.

Previously: U.S. Air Force Awards SpaceX $40.7 Million for Raptor Engine Development
Aerojet Rocketdyne Seeks More U.S. Air Force Funding for AR1 Rocket Engine

Related: Jeff Bezos' Vision for Space: One Trillion Population in the Solar System
NASA Opens Door to Possibly Lowering SLS Cost Using Blue Origin's Engines
SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24 2017, @04:32AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24 2017, @04:32AM (#586716)

    Let me guess, "Big Fucking Rocket?"

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24 2017, @05:52AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24 2017, @05:52AM (#586737)

    How do SpaceX's reusable rockets fit into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program? Maybe the Air Force should come up with a new name.

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24 2017, @06:49AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24 2017, @06:49AM (#586748)

      All SpaceX vehicles have a full thrust expendable mode that can carry more cargo.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by bradley13 on Tuesday October 24 2017, @09:57AM (3 children)

    by bradley13 (3053) on Tuesday October 24 2017, @09:57AM (#586794) Homepage Journal

    I'm rooting for SpaceX, but at this point in time this is the wrong kind of contract. You're being paid - not for results - but for shuffling government paperwork around. The government crawls around in your underwear, on contracts like this, looking at every nitpicking little detail. You write masses of reports, and double your head count over what you actually need, so that you can keep all the government busybodies occupied. I know, because I used to be one of those government busybodies.

    The worst of it is: contracts like this are like drugs. You've built up the infrastructure and personnel needed to deal with the government, so you need to next development contract, in order to make us of that investment. But writing endless reports and entertaining government flunkies is just a distraction from whatever business you are actually in.

    If the DoD wants to support SpaceX, pay them for launches. Pay them generously even. But pay for concrete, specific results, like "launch satellite X into orbit Y".

    Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24 2017, @01:17PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24 2017, @01:17PM (#586834)

      I can only find summaries of the contract. It's not clear what the deliverables are.

      The Air Force goal appears to help wean off the RD-180.
      If this results in more/quicker concrete test results then it is probably good.
      If it results in a variant of the engine, the diversion may be good or not depending on what is learned.
      If it results in more, unnecessary paperwork, then you may be correct.

      It would be nice to understand how this adjusts the timing or content of SpaceX's already planned, ongoing development.
      One has to trust the SpaceX is in a position to nudge things away from disruption and towards complementary support.

      • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Tuesday October 24 2017, @05:08PM

        by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday October 24 2017, @05:08PM (#586944)

        40 million dollars is also a pretty cheap investment for the Air Force to keep ULA under pressure.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday October 24 2017, @05:21PM

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Tuesday October 24 2017, @05:21PM (#586951) Journal

      SpaceX has admitted it needs to spend a lot of the government's money to get to Mars. Developing the new engine would be a small piece of the puzzle.

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