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posted by martyb on Thursday October 11 2018, @05:36AM   Printer-friendly
from the if-these-companies-had-cheerleaders,-would-they-be...booster-boosters? dept.

The military chooses which rockets it wants built for the next decade

On Wednesday, the US Air Force awarded its much-anticipated new round of "Launch Service Agreements," which provide funds to rocket companies to complete development of their boosters. There were three winners:

  • United Launch Services: $967,000,000 for the development of the Vulcan Centaur launch system.
  • Northrop Grumman: $791,601,015 for development of the Omega launch system
  • Blue Origin: $500,000,000 for the development of the New Glenn launch system

At least two other companies were believed to be in the running for these awards, as they won grants during an earlier round of funding in 2016. It was not a surprise to see Aerojet Rocketdyne fail to win an award, as that company does not appear to have a customer for its AR1 rocket engine, which the military initially supported. It was something of a surprise not to see SpaceX win an award.

[...] These are hugely consequential awards for the rocket companies. Essentially the US Air Force, which launches more complex, heavy payloads than any other entity in the world, believes these boosters will have a significant role to play in those missions during the next decade. And when the military has confidence in your vehicle, commercial satellite contracts are more likely to follow as well.

"This is a big win for companies like United Launch Alliance, that have the space pedigree they have, and for a company like Blue Origin that is aiming to establish itself," said Phil Larson, an assistant dean and chief of staff at the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science. "It is great to see the Air Force embracing public private partnership-type arrangements even more, and of course, with anything contract related, the devil will be in the details."

[...] the Air Force funding means ULA can press ahead toward a mid-2020 launch (at the earliest) of Vulcan. This was a huge lifeline for a company that has provided the Air Force with more than a decade of costly (but supremely reliable) launches and which has struggled in the face of stiff competition from SpaceX in recent years.

This was also a game-changing win for Northrop. This company, also, seemed unlikely to pursue development of its Omega rocket without significant government funding. The Omega rocket, which uses solid-propellant rockets for its first and second stages and a liquid hydrogen upper stage, could be ready for its first flight by 2021. Such a large award for solid-rocket booster technology was a surprise to some aerospace officials Ars spoke to.

Wednesday's announcement also was a huge vote of confidence in Blue Origin and its BE-4 rocket engine, which will power both the New Glenn and Vulcan rockets. The award will allow the company to rapidly build infrastructure needed for New Glenn, including a vertical-integration facility at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, as well as perform other certification activities.

[...] Regardless of the reasons, the lack of an award for SpaceX means that the successful, innovative, and individualistic company from California will now face three companies receiving military support as it competes with them in the the global launch industry. As ever, the battle will be epic and captivating.


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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday October 11 2018, @01:18PM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Thursday October 11 2018, @01:18PM (#747409) Journal

    SpaceX conducts launches from Vandenberg under an agreement they have with the Air Force. So of course the USAF is going to "watch the skies" or whatever it does to support the mission.

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