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Air Force backs three new kinds of rockets

Jeff Bezos and New Glenn
Jeff Bezos shows off the concept for the New Glenn orbital rocket during a Florida news conference in 2015. (Blue Origin Photo)

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.

Blue Origin, the Kent, Wash.-based space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, was awarded a launch service agreement for its New Glenn rocket, which is due to be launched from Florida starting in 2021. The agreement provides for as much as $500 million through 2024, but Blue Origin is expected to contribute to a cost-sharing arrangement.

Through its recently acquired Orbital ATK subsidiary, Northrop Grumman won a $791.6 million agreement with similar terms for its OmegA launch system. ULA, meanwhile, won a $967 million agreement for its Vulcan Centaur rocket. The Vulcan is currently set for first launch in 2020, with two Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engines powering its first-stage booster. OmegA is to enter service in 2021.

Each of the companies will be getting $109 million in funds from fiscal year 2018.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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